Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer
Release Date: 09/25/2015
Animal Crossing: New Leaf was one of my favorite games of 2013, so much so that I put together a monthly guide for the game to help other people who really loved New Leaf. One of the things I lauded about the game was its increased customization options, but as I played the game further, I remember my good friend Dee and I wishing that there were even more ways to customize our houses. So when it was announced that we would be getting a game called Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, I was incredibly happy. This is what I wanted!
Enter your character. S/he comes to a basically desolate town (much like in the original games) and starts working for Nook’s Homes, run by our favorite small time loan shark, Tom Nook. After you do a few jobs for him, everyone seems to think you’re really, really good at your job, and Isabelle eventually joins the fray as someone who wants your help completing town projects, like adding stores, restaurants, and eventually a hotel and concert hall. The conversations you have with the different characters in the game are just as quirky as they’ve always been, and it’s really fun seeing villagers you’ve grown attached to from other Animal Crossing games. In fact, the game maintains all of the series’s signature cuteness, visually and aurally.
One thing I will note right off the bat is that you don’t have your own home to happily design. Instead, as the game advertised, you are designing other animals’ homes. Three or four animals stand outside each “day” and ponder about what they would do with their own house, and your job is to talk to them and say, “Yeah, I can do that.” Each time you go do someone’s house, items relating to what that animal wants will unlock, making your job easier, should you want to use items relating to that theme. You can do one customization job each “day,” and at the end of each “day” you’ll save the game and come back for work if you choose to continue playing the game.
Customizable features unlock as the game progresses. Eventually, you’ll be able to hang things from the ceiling, pick floor plans, and add fossils, fish, and paintings to houses, for example. You can unlock these using a handbook (one lesson per “day”), paying a certain amount of Play Coins per lesson. (I will note I hadn’t taken my Nintendo 3DS with me anywhere for months until this game came out, just because I wanted the Play Coins so I could unlock those options. So if that was their intention, it worked.)
Customizing homes is a breeze thanks to the intuitive touch controls. I was incredibly happy to see that you could squeeze diagonally through furniture catty-corner from one another, and I gleefully look forward to that being integrated into other Animal Crossing titles. Moving furniture and other items around is fairly simple, with only mild frustration for moving things that stack on top of one another (for example, vases on tables). Honestly, though, I had no real issues moving things around and getting things designed the way I wanted them to be. It was a completely stress-free experience, and easily one of the best aspects of the game.
You can use the Amiibo NFC reader (if you don’t have a New Nintendo 3DS) with Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, as there are cards you can use to invite villagers to your town. You don’t really need this, as you’ll probably run into enough cool villagers as it is (for example, I ran into Tangy and Phoebe fairly quickly, who are two of my favorites), but if you really do want to invite special characters, you can try your luck at the little Amiibo booster packs. There’s also the option of posting images to the Miiverse, but it’ll just take the last screenshot you took while reviewing your work at the end of a job and post it if you so choose. To be honest, while I uploaded some stuff to the Miiverse, I didn’t actually care enough to go through others’ posts or see what people have rated my designs. I’d rather admire my friends’ work in real time while visiting their village or do like they did in Animal Crossing: New Leaf with the Happy Home Showcase where you can physically walk around a bunch of different houses. I’m sure some people will find the Miiverse option appealing, and sharing is certainly easy enough, but I shrugged and moved on.
The game does have a few problems. Most notably, at least for me, is that while designing homes is fun, I don’t want that to be the only thing I do. While you can go visit past clients (directly, by car, so you can’t even really wander around), you can’t do anything with them. You can ask them if you can redesign their home (which you might want to do once you have more of those design options), ask them if they want to move to a different home, or just say hi. That’s it. And once you complete Isabelle’s tasks, which are actually more interesting and challenging (insofar as this game can be challenging) than designing animals’ homes, it seems like all you can do after this is either redesign those buildings or… do more animals’ homes. Because of this, the game feels shallow a lot of the time. It ends up being this weird mix of fun and boring that I can only really describe as mindless.
Another issue with the game is that there’s no sense of challenge or reward. Someone tells you they want a house designed, you go design their house, you see them interacting in their house, and you move on. Everything is free; you don’t have budget constraints… or really, any constraints at all. It doesn’t seem to really matter if you thoughtfully design their home, filling it with items you think they’d like, or if you kind of blow it off and do what you want. You don’t get any feedback in terms of how you’re doing and honestly, even if you filled a room to the brim with trash cans, they’re fine with it. Really. This is probably the most disappointing part of the game, because while I have this insatiable need to make sure the client is happy, thus following the theme they want, it would be nice if I did this knowing that they could be super mad at me if I didn’t, or that I could get a bad grade or something. Literally nothing you do in this game matters, which just feels… empty.
While Animal Crossing: Happy Home Academy has all the visual and aural charm of Animal Crossing and I do enjoy the game for what it is, I will say that it has made me appreciate the other things that you can do in the main games. I really love customizing houses, especially ones that aren’t my own, but I also miss fishing and digging for fossils and going to the cafe and all those other fun things that you can do in the main titles. I also love having residents that can actually be upset with you if you mess up. What I would love for Nintendo to do next is to integrate the things they added to Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer into the main series. Maybe once you get close enough to a fellow resident, they ask if you can redesign their home based on items you’ve collected in your catalog so far. Or maybe you can actually get paid for redesigning people’s homes to help pay off Tom Nook’s loans. I’m not entirely sure how they’d do it. While this was definitely a step in the right direction for home design in this series, I think the best outcome would be for some of these cool features to be integrated into something more substantial.
Short Attention Span Summary
While this is a fun game for those who want to design homes for their Animal Crossing friends, I advise people to know exactly what it is they’re getting into with this game, especially given its price tag. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is, literally, a game where you design other animals’ houses and a couple of town projects. That’s it. There is nothing else to do. You can’t interact with other villagers or visit friends over the internet or anything else. You just design houses. And that’s okay. That is, after all, exactly what they advertised, and I’m still playing the game with no regrets. It’s just made me realize how much I love everything else about Animal Crossing and how the game feels empty without those other features.