After spending over two weeks with the game, our review of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is finally here! Read on to find out whether we were truly a happy home designer after all, or if we got a little grumpy in the process.
Nearly three years after Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s 2012 launch in Japan, Nintendo brings us a new Animal Crossing title, but is it the one we really want? Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer has all the draws of a charming Animal Crossing game with the characters you know and love, but with the focus firmly set on designing homes and other buildings, just as the title would suggest.
Your new career as a home designer in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer begins when you stumble into the office of Nook’s Homes for the first time to meet your new fellow employees. There’s a slate of familiar faces – Lyle, Digby, and of course the big cheese himself Tom Nook are all there. Then there’s Lottie, the new friendly pink otter and relative of Lyle who before you even know her sends you off to design your very first home learning the ropes of home design.
It’s important to note right away that this isn’t your typical Animal Crossing game. You won’t find any fish and bugs to catch or fossils and gyroids to dig because Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is set firmly inside the tight boundaries of a home design spin-off and it won’t stray outside of that box. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer double downs on the concept by introducing a host of brand new additions that make designing a home in Animal Crossing better than ever before.
Think furniture on the ceiling, curtains and blinds on windows, elegant rugs on top of the regular floor, and even background sound effects to choose from. On top of that, there’s a fantastic new interface and set of controls for the real job of decorating the homes. You can even decorate the outside yard of the homes with any furniture in the game as well as the usual set of landscaping items like flowers, bushes, and trees.
And while you can still push and shove objects around like in the previous games if you wish, the touch screen really comes to life in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. With the new touch screen controls, just drag and drop to move items, or tap to rotate and duplicate them. These new controls with the touch screen truly make it all so much easier and satisfying to decorate in Animal Crossing, and it would be shocking to not see them implemented in future games.
As you progress through Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, your horizons will expand beyond just decorating cozy homes to brand new community buildings in the town with Isabelle back from Animal Crossing: New Leaf to guide you through the process. You’ll design unique buildings never seen in the Animal Crossing series, like an elementary school, a department store, or even a concert hall. These community buildings are definitely something unique that Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer offers and are quite refreshing at first.
Unfortunately, once you’ve designed a dozen or so homes and completed a round of community buildings, the game can begin to show its shortcomings. Sure, it’s fun to design a home or community building and play with all the new tools and items given to you, but ultimately there’s only so many times you can do that in a row before it just grows tiring. There’s simply little incentive and a general lack of any long-term goals to keep you playing.
In a typical Animal Crossing title, the same thing would happen eventually of course, but there’s always something different to try instead to break it up, so it typically takes many weeks to get that feeling in the Animal Crossing series rather than the mere days it took for me to feel that way with Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer.
That being said, I think this may vary wildly from person to person. Some players may find themselves having a blast designing home after home after home, but I couldn’t help feel fatigued from the repetitiveness myself. You can likely already guess from your experiences with other video games whether this will be the case for you or not though.
I would have liked to see Nintendo act a little more ambitious with Happy Home Designer, despite being a spin-off title. There’s plenty more that could be done to add extra depth and value to the game while remaining inside the bounds of the home design aspect. For example, there’s a distinct lack of any multiplayer features in a series which has had prominent online interaction features for a decade now.
Sure there’s the Happy Home Network, an online network to share your home designs similar to an expanded version of the Dream Suite from Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but a cooperative feature allowing you to simultaneously design a home in real-time with a friend either locally or online would have been a welcome addition.
Some more variety when it comes to the community buildings would have been great to see as well as there’s sure potential for outdoor designing, yet very little room to do so in the land plots provided to you. Why not a grand outdoor park, or even a playground addition to the school? I really think it’s a shame to see the opportunity in this element left under utilized.
Despite these shortcomings though, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is definitely still an enjoyable game for Animal Crossing fans. You’ll connect with your favourite villagers from the past yet again, and get to know others that you never paid attention to before. And the new features and controls for designing a home are a massive improvement for the series, even if the act can get repetitive sometimes.
I’m just not sure if it’s really worth the high price of admission for a full priced retail game. There’s no question as to whether there’s a concern over the amount of content, there are over three hundred unique villagers to design homes for and ten community buildings to complete after all. Whether you will actually make it through a fraction of that content before burning out from the game is the real question, and that’s going to be different for every player.
About the Animal Crossing amiibo cards:
One interesting feature of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer that I didn’t get to earlier is the game’s compatibility with Animal Crossing amiibo cards. These are fancy new cards featuring both prominent special characters and villagers from the series which can be scanned into the game for a couple different purposes.
You can use the handy amiibo phone created by Lyle to “call in” a character to design their home, including special characters exclusive to the cards. There’s the ability to invite over any character you have a card for into any home or community building as well. That might sound silly, but it can be surprisingly entertaining to invite over your favourite villagers for a house party in a home you designed yourself.
Ultimately, they aren’t essential to the game by any means, but are a fun addition to play around with if you feel inclined. I think it’s better that they remain fairly insignificant to the game, rather than feeling essential to the experience and forced upon you. Besides, they’re addicting enough to collect simply for collection’s sake regardless of in-game use! And don’t forget, they’re compatible with the upcoming Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival as well.
What I liked:
- Greatly improved design tools and controls that we need to see in future Animal Crossing games
- New community buildings are fun, unique, and fresh to Animal Crossing
- Mountains of content with hundreds of homes to design and the massive Animal Crossing catalog of items
- Animal Crossing amiibo cards are a fun addition, while not feeling forced upon you either
What I didn’t like:
- Designing homes gets very repetitive after awhile with little incentive to continue playing
- Disappointing lack of any multiplayer gameplay after a strong focus on social interaction in recent titles
- Missed opportunity with expanding on the exterior design capabilities
- Arguably overpriced launching at a higher price than New Leaf for less of a game
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer retails for $39.99 in the United States and $44.99 in Canada.
Full Disclosure: Nintendo of Canada provided a retail copy of the Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer game and a New Nintendo 3DS XL system for review.