Leave your shovels, fishing rods and nets at the door as you embark on a new journey with interior design in Nintendo’s latest Animal Crossing title. With the beautiful New Leaf style back in focus, Happy Home Designer isn’t quite the perfect fruit collection, but it still sparkles with its typical franchise charm.
From Animal Crossing New Leaf’s assistant director Isao Moro and developed by Nintendo’s EAD team comes a new 3DS spin-off for the delightful simulation game. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is made for those who spend more time decorating their homes, than bothering Blathers with creepy crawlies for the town museum. So if you always wanted to give your favourite characters’ homes a flavour of your creative talent, then Happy Home Designer is certain to pop a spring in your step. Though you aren’t quite the mayor of a town this time, you’ll still provide clients with better customer service than the lovely but ever idle Tom Nook. In fact, he’s managed to become so elusive in Happy Home Designer, that he only ever graces your presence once or twice and, thankfully, doesn’t ask for bells.
Yet unlike any other iteration of the Animal Crossing series, players can begin the game by choosing their own avatar’s facial structure and features such as skin, hair and eye colour. Of course, leaving it to chance based on various questions always gave a fluttering thrill with the risk involved, but restarting repeatedly was never a fun choice. Yet the icing on the cake comes with being able to change your entire look whenever you wish throughout the game; a real positive change in the series.
Once you’ve chosen your avatar, Happy Home Designer presents players with a short tutorial section where you’ll meet the huffing and puffing Lyle and his daughter Lottie in Nook’s Homes. Tasked with creating a cosy home for Lottie, you can get to grips with house staples such as beds, tables and chairs in the neat menu section. But designers will only be able to complete one client home or works project per in-game day, meaning it’s back to basics when saving your game. Simply sit at your desk in Nook’s Homes and write up your report to save, similar to the bed in previous titles. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise, after all we avoid Resetti, but there’s nothing like the freedom of pushing the start button to save.
The furniture catalogue can be accessed with your stylus, or the X button on the 3DS, and displays standard household items. Talking to new clients outside of Nook’s Homes gives players an opportunity to expand their current collection with new furniture sets and miscellaneous items when designing their home. Four new characters will mill around Nook’s Homes every in-game day producing a cloud bubble over their heads when near, so there’s plenty of choice when it comes to designing different houses from client criteria.
Franchise fans can also rejoice as the irksome push and pull mechanic used in previous games is no longer the sole focus of item placement. Simply use your stylus to place the object, rotate it and move it to anywhere in the room you wish. Even duplicating items is easy with a quick tap of the item in conjunction with the right shoulder button, alongside grouping select items together with a handy drag and drop tool.
After a number of in-game days have passed and you’re on your way to becoming an interior design pro, players will gain access to the Happy Home handbook; another fantastic addition to the title. Up to 14 lessons are available to choose, including new floor plans and layouts, changing interior windows and doors, as well as adding customised or refurbished furniture. And given bells are unheard of in Happy Home Designer, you’ll have to purchase lessons via play coins in increments of one, two or five. Unfortunately, players can only learn one new lesson per in-game day which causes minor frustration, particularly when most of the cool features are locked out from the beginning and, ultimately, are part of the core experience.
But designing character homes isn’t the only option as before long our wonderful, familiar friend from New Leaf pops up and we’re knee deep in public works projects. Unlike the projects in the past though, Isabelle gives you full leeway when designing the interior. Branch out with your creativity by planning a school, hospital, restaurant, offices and a variety of shops for the town’s market district. Happy Home Designer is quite simply a joy to play in these parts, giving fans the scope they’ve always dreamed of when bringing their Animal Crossing town to life.
As much as Happy Home Designer excites and drives our passion for client interior design, whether that’s through creating a mansion exterior, providing them with a beautiful garden, giving them extra space with two rooms, or from picking an adequate map location come rain, shine or snow, it’s still missing two features. The lack of town exploration dilutes the experience entirely. With no choice but to get in your car to visit character homes, it’s similar to driving in the dark; mostly black with an occasional light to illuminate.
Perhaps it’s part of an interior designer’s narcissism, but wouldn’t it be great to look on those houses in a complete town, knowing they were built from the ground up? The second, and probably the most important feature of all, Happy Home Designer doesn’t give you a happy home of your own. May as well just slap a mortgage on bare land, for old time’s sake, while Mr. Nook happily counts his golden bell stash.
Nintendo, though, have integrated Miiverse functionality seamlessly within the game and can be opened up at any time from the touch screen, alongside 3DS image share. Plus the addition of the amiibo cards are bound to come into their own and add enough variation to keep the game fluid and exciting. Personally, I’ve yet to experiment with them but players can access this feature easily within Nook’s Homes and the amiibo phone. In terms of online interactivity, players will be able to obtain special design requests which can be created and sent back to the requester.
Though Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer has its hang-ups, it’s an enjoyable game that never feels out of place from the main series. With enough home and project variety, an expansive list of items and characters that will always exude appeal, it’s a great side salad to New Leaf’s seasoned main.