When you think about Animal Crossing, the first word that always seems to pop up is charm. From the spoken language of the natives, Animales, to the cute art design, it’s hard not to instantly fall in love with this series. Known to be life simulator games, the series is beloved for its silliness, and addictive daily grind which includes catching bugs and pulling weeds. That is not a joke–you’d be astonished by my bug collection in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. With the latest iteration in the series, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, as the title implies, the focus is on the crafting house interiors and exteriors. Exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS, this title is all about expressing your style and swagger with a slew of customization options that are easy to use. By foregoing everything else that has made this franchise so popular, Home Designer, unfortunately, doesn’t provide much variety in gameplay, and feels like a one-trick pony. Granted, that one trick is great in moderation.
Returning to this cute world, you’ll be tasked with joining Nook’s Homes, working for the crook himself, Tom Nook. The deceivingly cute rascal of a raccoon-like creature is at his best here once again, hiring you as a rookie to help locals and newcomers spiff up their places while he’s out golfing. How I wish I could have joined him a couple of times. I will say, it’s nice not to have soul crushing debt looming over my every action, Tom at least provides you with a job this time around.
“The simplicity of the design tools is appreciated.”
With a robust amount of creation tools, you’ll start off designing small rooms. Whoever comes to you for help will also provide some specifications they’d like to see implemented in their home. That could mean making a certain color prominent or a certain theme, there are almost no limitations on how you can interpret that into the design. The bottom screen of your 3DS will have a grid form layout of the space being worked on, and several tabs will be available to search for items you’d like to use. Clicking them will make them magically appear, and dragging the item with the stylus is all that is required. The simplicity of the design tools is appreciated. Once you’re done, you get a view of your work from different angels and you can even take snapshots of everything that can later be shared.
A new project means more items to tinker with. Depending on what the client desires, a number of new additions will appear in your inventory that will make said client happy. This is what I found to be fairly boring about the way the game works–there’s a magnifying glass icon that will give you the answer to the test. By clicking this icon, new items in your catalogue will show up, providing you with choices that will please each character. There’s no challenge there. Part of the fun is placing everything the way you want to, but you never have to worry about not knowing what gear will work best with the guidelines for each house. Not that it matters much, because the characters in this town don’t seem to care what you do with their living space. They’ll tell you what they want, then proceed to send praise your way, even if you don’t follow their guidelines. Where’s the fun in that?
Another way of unlocking varying customization option is through the handbook that is eventually provided to you in the game. Each in game day, you’ll be able to use play coins (yeah, remember those things) to learn a new skill that can be implemented from then on. Each lesson consists of a couple of slides explaining the new skill, so it’s nothing really complicated or convoluted. One of the unlockables through this method is the ability to create your own designs that can then be shared on Miiverse as well.
“Once you’ve have enough experience and fame from word of mouth, you’ll have some fun turning Main Street into a fully functional, completely jamming spot for visitors.”
After a couple of jobs here and there, you’ll be promoted to doing exterior design. I enjoyed placing sandboxes and benches in each yard, but you can place flowers, trees, and even balloons to turn a boring lawn into a party lawn. Once you’ve had enough experience and fame from word of mouth, you’ll have some fun turning Main Street into a fully functional, completely jamming spot for visitors. Here you’ll have to worry about exterior, interior, and multiple rooms, so it’s much larger projects that still aren’t very challenging. But hey, at least you can tweak public facilities to your liking.
Aside from the usual customers, you’ll also be able to introduce new characters into your world using amiibo cards. Yes, another collectible item that will take all the monies. Introducing a new friend into your town will allow you to give them a job, design their their home, and just have them roaming around the new and improved Main Street. An in game client book will show you who you have collected thus far, they are kind of like Pokémon cards. It’s fun if you’re really into this game and just want to 100% everything. Just keep in mind that only the New 3DS is NFC ready, so an older model will require a separate purchase to scan in the amiibo cards. Also, one card is already included in the game packaging, so you’ll instantly feel the rush of trying to collect them all.
That’s about all you can do in this game. Roaming around town to check how the town is reacting to your changes is a nice distraction for about a minute. You can also visit past clients to check how much their enjoying their impressive new homes. Really, a lot of the fun comes from your commitment to the being wild and imaginative with each space at your disposal. You will find a lot of hours of pleasure here if you love all the minor details of designing, and if you want to turn an ordinary home into a show-stopping spectacle. It just feels like this should be one small aspect of a much larger game.
There’s a certain hook here, for sure. Turning a space into whatever you want it to be is fun, at least, in the beginning. But, after a while it just felt like work. Customization is simple, anyone can pick it up and instantly feel like a pro, so that’s a strength. As someone who absolutely loves New Leaf, this game felt almost empty. Not that I was expecting the same type of gameplay, but there just isn’t much to do in Happy Home Designer outside of fixing up homes. I know that’s the literal name of the game. I would have just appreciated a change of pace, or any sort of change in gameplay at all. Granted, having different demands for each house is a nice way of changing things up, but you’ll never really have to stick to it. At least the charm of Animal Crossing is still retained. The adorable language and art style will never cease to please. I recommend this title to anyone who is looking for a relaxing time. There’s plenty of amusement to be had here–simply play it in moderation.
–Expressing yourself. Outside of a couple of request, how you build the town and each home is all up to you.
–Collecting all the Villagers is a fun incentive to keep coming back.
–Choosing the exterior look and interior functionality will help Main Street flourish.
–Not much to do. Designing is the name of the game and that’s about all you can do.
–Nothing you do to a home really has any repercussions. It’s almost impossible to ruin a job, you’d think that would be considered to be good thing, but it’s rather boring.
–Items are just given to you. Each job will unlock items that suit the client and there’s no work that goes into unlocking special house items. You’ll never have to worry about having the right things because, again, they are just given to you.
Rating: 3 out of 5 burritos
This review was completed using a Nintendo 3DS copy of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, provided by Nintendo. The game hit stores Friday, September 25 exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS. Image credit: Nintendo.