Game Review

by Heidi Kemps,

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Nintendo 3DS

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer
This spinoff of the popular life-sim is might be a one-trick pony, but least its trick is pretty darn entertaining.

There are some game ideas that sound great on paper but are executed horribly. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is the exact opposite: it sounds like an absolutely terrible idea on paper. Take a game known for its numerous life-sim elements and freeform gameplay, and strip away all of that to focus solely on decorating homes? That sounds like crazy talk!

It's when you sit down with Happy Home Designer that you realize something: a lot of what you actually do in Animal Crossing is in service of getting all the dumb crap you plop down into your in-game house. Happy Home Designer is just removing barriers that prevent you from doing the home decoration activity as freely as you'd like… by removing most of the game that feeds into it. And somehow, it works. Sort of.

Unlike in typical Animal Crossing adventures, where your monetary livelihood consists of finding the right rock to smash rapidly with a shovel, Happy Home Designer actually gives you a nine-to-five job as an agent of Nook's Homes. There's a real-estate boom in this nameless city, and you're the new home designer in this up-and-coming furry hotspot. Your task is to design living spaces based on the requests of the animals that are moving in using the various templates and objects at your disposal. Once you've made a name for yourself, you can move up to developing crucial town facilities like schools, offices, hospitals, even a department store.

Where the crux in the main Animal Crossing games is making your own personalized living space, Happy Home Designer's critters have specific requests they want you to follow (and, usually, a few precious pieces of furniture of objects they insist be incorporated into the design). A kangaroo parent might want a living space with things for children to play with, a snooty cat may insist on stuff that matches a very particular thematic motif like fruit, and chubby chipmunks could come to you for advice on designing their personal haunted house.

Despite some of the specific demands they make, there's a good amount of freedom permitted in your designs: that wolf isn't going to howl at you if you put his TV in an awkward place. You're also not restricted by a budget. You couldn't put things in your house in other Animal Crossing games unless you obtained them somehow, which meant rare and expensive items required a good deal of work to find or purchase. Here, you simply pick things from a huge array of pictorial menus and they appear instantaneously in the house. Moving them around is also easier: rather than having to pick up and manually place everything with the circle pad and buttons, you just drag, drop, and rotate stuff with the stylus on the bottom screen. You still have to unlock stuff – some objects don't appear in your menu until you take on specific requests, or until you pay Play Coins to buy them from the work manual – but not being restricted by money or ownership or not having enough space is pretty nifty.

That basically sums up the game – Happy Home Designer is the thrill of home decoration without any of the other Animal Crossing stuff impeding it. It only does that one thing, and if you're not really into making customized houses, than there's nothing else here for you. Despite its simplicity, however, there's something I found really fun about designing all of these weird little animal abodes. Sure, it's satisfying to complete that collection of ridiculously rare furniture you can only get from town visitors who show up randomly in New Leaf, but at the same time, it's super refreshing to not have to go through all of that and just letting your artistic design sense run wild. I found that Happy Home Designer taps into the same creative itch as Mario Maker does, only you try to make something that's merely pretty to look at rather than something that's functional as a game. It's just as engaging, though nowhere near as fulfilling in the end. Unfortunately, you can't really share these creations as socially as you can in the core games – while you can't invite people over to your town, you can at least upload houses you've created to a Nintendo server where people can rate them.

In a way, Happy Home Designer almost feels like a testbed for concepts that might appear in the next major Animal Crossing release. The interface improvements for home decoration are a nice step forward, and I can see them carrying over into the main games. Things like ceiling lights and hanging decorations are new to the series, and add a lot of flair to home designs. You can actually scoot through half-tile spaces now, which allows you a lot more freedom to place things without blocking passageways. You have more freedom over camera movement, as well, and can freely position yourself (and the animal inhabitants) for prime photo ops with the stylus (and, of course, amiibo cards. Collect them all!).

But is an enhanced version of a singular aspect of Animal Crossing worth $40, plus the potential cost of a NFC reader and additional amiibo cards? That's something I really can't answer, as value-for-money in gaming is so subjective. If you truly love the creative aspect of designing and showcasing your Animal Crossing living spaces, then it's probably a “yes.” Otherwise, you may just be better off sticking to New Leaf and waiting for a more fully-featured Animal Crossing installment down the line.

Overall : B-
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : B-
Gameplay : B
Presentation : B

+ Lets you be creative in building living spaces and city facilities without many of the restrictions seen in other AC titles, features many improvements to the home-construction interface.
There's only really one thing to do in the whole game, lacks the extensive socialization aspects of other AC titles.

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