Cute, charming and surprisingly addictive, Happy Home Designer is an important step for the Animal Crossing series
Available platforms: Nintendo 3DS
In previous Animal Crossing games, the arrival of a new villager was a moment of celebration. Not only were you getting a whole new character for your town, but also an entire house full of stylised bits of furniture that matched their personality. Of course a cat with an orange for a head has a suite of citrus themed tables and chairs – that’s just how Nintendo rolls. Yet, for all of EAD Group 2’s careful character curation, every villager, without fail, eventually falls victim to the same affliction: you. You and your insatiable quest for stuff.
So voracious is your need to own and consume in Animal Crossing that you soon stop at nothing to create your perfect household, even if that means wrecking the homes of the furry pals around you. As you amass more and more items, you quickly start selling those you don’t need to the village shop, or, in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, put them up for sale in the second hand Re-Tail outlet. At this point, you don’t really care about your villagers’ houses any more. The only thing you want is for them to come in and take your junk away so you can make a quick Bell, clearing the way for you to hawk even more stuff to fuel your relentless desire for profit.
^ If this were one of the main Animal Crossing titles, everything you see here would soon be swapped for random garbage
Except, that’s not really the end of the story. For once your neighbours have trundled home with their new purchase, they put it in pride of place in their front room, slowly swapping out their old furniture for your rejected trash. Eventually, their houses become mausoleums of your unwanted cast-offs until they’re left with nothing but a potty, a quarter of a wrestling ring, a torch and a new pet scorpion.
It’s one of the few genuine problems I’ve found with Animal Crossing over the years, but when the game’s entire premise is to make money (whether it’s to pay off your mortgage, expand your house or simply buy more items), there’s little you can do to prevent it. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer fixes this in an instant. By removing the core cash cycle, Happy Home Designer allows the more creative side of Animal Crossing to flourish, giving players full reign to create their perfect and, more importantly, permanent ideal village without the risk of turning everything into a massive landfill site.
^ The municipal buildings are a great addition to Happy Home Designer and provide a welcome alternative to creating more homes
As the game’s title implies, this time you’re stepping out as an up and coming interior designer, and it’s your job to build each new homeowner a brand-new swanky pad according to their individual design brief. Sometimes it can be as simple as “I want to live in a house full of balloons!”, while others such as “Give me somewhere that screams ‘heist central'” are a little more open-ended. Either way, each animal will have a few choice items you’re required to include, but otherwise it’s pretty much up to you how you’d like to deck out each home, both inside and out.
Whether it’s the roof tiles, garden fence, window blinds or interior light fittings, the sheer range of items available in Happy Home Designer is truly massive, especially when you’re used to having everything locked away behind eye-watering pay walls. Now every vase, lunch box, book stack, fruit bowl and furniture suite is yours for the taking, and it makes the designing process all the richer for it. Admittedly, you’ll need to take on new clients to unlock the vast majority of Happy Home’s furniture (as well as spend a few in-game Play Coins), but each commission still gives you a sizable number of objects to play with and the opportunity to go back for a few post-completion touch-ups gives you endless scope to tweak and perfect them with new items as you please.
^ Like New Leaf, Nintendo’s Image Share feature, which lets you take in-game screenshots and upload them to social networks, is an inherent part of what makes Happy Home Designer tick
Better still, Nintendo has finally given Animal Crossing the interface it deserves for arranging furniture. Whereas previous entries in the series saw you manually pushing and shoving furniture around by hand on the Circle Pad, Happy Home Designer – at long last – lets you use the stylus to simply drag and drop items into place on a top-down grid on the touchscreen. You can also tap to rotate or even select multiple items at once, making it easier than ever before to arrange and organise your furniture selections.
^ Bigger floor plans give you more scope to get creative with your designs
It’s not just homes you’ll be designing in Happy Home Designer, though, as your trusty assistant Isabelle from Animal Crossing: New Leaf is also on hand with a long list of municipal buildings she wants you to build to help reinvigorate your ailing town square. We had a small taste of this in New Leaf when we were given the option to redesign the outside of the town hall, as well as add benches, lighthouses and other installations around the town, but Happy Home Designer goes one step further, allowing you to design entire schools, restaurants, and hospitals to name just a few. These are much bigger spaces than your traditional villager homes, with many involving multiple rooms and varying floor plan sizes, providing an even bigger canvas for you to work your design magic.
However, once your design is complete and you’ve had a bit of a laugh with the cyborg frog who forgot his homework or the narcoleptic elephant dozing off in the hospital reception, there’s not actually a lot else to do in Happy Home Designer, other than take on more clients and endlessly adjust and re-jig your past projects. You can’t really interact with your creations in any meaningful way (unless you count using amiibo cards to change role assignments in each town facility as meaningful), and it often feels like you’re walking round a film set rather than a living, breathing community like you might find in New Leaf, for example. Arguably more disappointing, though, is the lack of a proper town for you to wander round in and admire your collective handiwork either. Instead, whenever you want to visit a client, you just simply jump in your car, taking away one of Animal Crossing’s most delightful pastimes.
^ Because we’re a consummate professional, we go to work with in a dragon mask
This is perhaps the game’s biggest shortcoming, and one that definitely starts to make itself known as you approach around ten hours of play. However, when there are so many possible homes to get stuck in with – and even more if you buy a pack of Animal Crossing amiibo cards – I’d say it does a pretty decent job of sweeping those flaws under the carpet. While it’s unlikely I’ll play Happy Home Designer for as long as the 230-odd hours I spent with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, it’s nevertheless a highly enjoyable and charming entry in the franchise that provides a welcome remedy to some of the more under-developed aspects of the main series. It may be rather single-minded in its approach, but I certainly hope we’ll see more of Happy Home Designer in Animal Crossing’s near-future.
|Available formats||Nintendo 3DS|
|Price including VAT||£35|