As a Nintendo completist, I often pick up games that I’m not particularly interested in, but that I feel compelled to play anyway just to that I can cross them off my list. Although I enjoy the Animal Crossing series (and have sunk a fairly ridiculous number of hours in them over the years), creating the perfect home or pattern hasn't usually been my focal point. So I didn't feel particularly excited by the announcement of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but as I don’t really see the point in just having another iteration of the same Animal Crossing formula, I wasn't disappointed either.
I bought a copy of the game during some holiday deals, and I tried it out without many expectations. My main question was about how it would feel to miss out on building those superficial relationships with villagers, which although somewhat limited, is an enjoyable part of the Animal Crossing experience. After having put in a decent number of hours into the game, I’m overall pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Happy Home Designer. The game definitely feels more basic in that there’s less variety of things to do, but what it does offer it does quite well.
First off, as it states on the tin, the game is about designing homes. The new controls are fantastic, although I’m not sure I would want them in a main Animal Crossing game. In those games you have to make your character push and pull furniture into place, which is slow, but it does make the experience more realistic. In the main games you also have to painstakingly track each piece down and earn money to buy them, but in this game your catalogue expands with each new client you take on. Checking out which new items you “unlock” with each new client is a lot of the fun of the game, and in a sense this makes the game reminiscent of the Style Savvy series, where the fun isn't so much about building relationships with clients, but rather with getting to see the huge variety of furniture in the game. Similarly, although people have complained that there's no "challenge" to the game because you're not graded at all and your clients will accept whatever you give them, they're sort of missing the point. It's like complaining that the Art Academy games don't have a grading system; the point of the game is really about being creative, not about satisfying rigid requirements like in the scoring portions of the Animal Crossing games.
Although people who have spent even more time than I have playing the main games have probably seen and owned most of these items before (and the huge variety of refurbishments you can get), designing homes around particular sets of furniture is surprisingly fun and addictive because it’s all so quick and easy to do. This game also adds entire new categories of items, including light fixtures that hang from the ceiling, window options, and outdoor-specific items. Designing the exteriors of homes is kind of dull, but is much more accessible than in the main games, where you had to pay a lot to change the look of your house.
The other main new addition is designing buildings for your town, which I tended to only do out of necessity. It’s nice that each building adds more bustle to your town, and it’s fun to see the menagerie of townsfolk acting out roles (such as doctors and shopkeepers) with entertaining dialogue, but it feels like there’s less room for creativity, despite the variety of new furniture that’s provided.
Aside from working on your own domestic and town building designs and seeing familiar lovable Animal Crossing faces, another big draw to the game is seeing others’ designs. The most recent Animal Crossing game in particular had a bevy of features that allowed you to visit other people’s towns (via “dream” codes as well as local and Wi-Fi play) and houses via StreetPass. This game lets you compare your interpretation of a client’s theme (e.g. "polka dots") to the world’s. Even using the same furniture can produce quite different results, and this feature is surprisingly entertaining. The game also features monthly contests around new themes, and by participating in them you can nab exclusive items. There are also clients you can get via Wi-Fi (Nintendo Zone or SpotPass) during certain periods, which provides even more exclusive items.
It's surprising to me that the game doesn't support StreetPass, and that it doesn't show people on your friend list, but presumably this is to focus the attention on the Amiibo cards, which make their debut here. The cards don’t really have much use in the game aside from some exclusive clients and being able to “trade” furniture with friends (i.e. unlock furniture in their catalogue that you already have available). I’m sure there are a lot of people who are going to obsessively hunt down a complete set of cards, but I’m happy to just get a few random ones and try to trade for some of my “best buddy” Animal Crossing villagers (Gaston and Kody mostly, haha).
All in all the game was surprisingly fun, and is one of those “evergreen” titles that I can see myself coming back to again and again, whenever there’s a new monthly contest or a friend starts playing it. I don't think this and Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival were the best possible spin-offs for what is a much beloved series, but I'm glad that Nintendo changed things up a bit before the next inevitable main series release.
Check out these stylish Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer links:
- Official website, includes wallpapers (for your desktop, silly!)
- Guide to which furniture unlocks with which character
- Review at NintendoLife
- And just as a reminder of how far I have to go, entry at nookipedia.com