Bubbles? In this economy?
The cliche “if this is the kind of thing you’re into, it’s for you!” doesn’t mean anything anymore, and may never have in the first place. Telling someone that if they like something, they’ll like that something but in a slightly different format doesn’t explain any of the nuance that comes with an experience. But in recommending a game so single-minded in its focus as Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, it’s key to note that there is nothing in this game for anyone who doesn’t completely adore decorating Animal Crossing homes. That’s not at all a bad thing, it’s just not going to change anyone’s mind. It makes me yearn for the next mainline game in the franchise, especially if it takes notes from this entry.
To recap, Happy Home Designer is a new spin-off of the Animal Crossing games in which you are tasked with the home decor of many of the personable animals you’ve come to love over the years. You find animals you want to help, plop their house on a set of land, and get to work. Nearly everything about the house is customizable, and you have access to a large swath of items that only grows with each new job. The act of placing items around a home has been greatly eased by the touch screen, allowing you to drag and drop any item you place into the house. This is Happy Home Designer’s greatest feat, and if the next mainline AC game ignores this, it will be a worse game because of it.
Happy Home Designer’s strength is the ease in which you control everything. Instead of having to wait day after real-life day to unlock things, new unlocks come with each new job you take. The aforementioned touch screen controls for home decor, and the slow but steady unlock ramp make for a delightful way to access all the furniture items in-game. Further options can be unlocked by using play coins to take home design lessons from a handbook, unlocking stranger items like gyroids and ceiling fans. There is so much customization in the game, it’s very nearly overwhelming. It’s just a shame that after you finish building these homes, there’s not much else for you to do.
Once a home is decorated, you can visit it and interact with the resident. This would usually be where the game truly shines, with the witty dialogue that Animal Crossing is so famous for. But instead, you get a few phrases out of the character and not much else. Games in the same franchise can be successful while deviating from the formula, but Happy Home Designer ends up feeling vacant. The stark contrast between New Leaf’s mayor being a friend to the villagers and the designer just being someone the animal hired for a job is apparent; the characters seemingly corrall you back into your 9-5 so you can help someone else in need. Helping others feels so much less rewarding when they don’t want to associate with you outside of work.
Even if interacting with the villagers is barebones, you’ll need to find an amiibo card if you want a specific animal in your town. These cards do a few things: You can use the amiibo phone in your office to specifically work on that character’s home and keep them in your game, or you can drop them into someone else’s home and let them stay there silently until you kick them out. The first use is the only one that really matters (unless you desperately need Isabelle to be in the same home as one of your other villagers), especially when the rare amiibo cards give you access to villagers you normally would never be able to work with, such as Mr. Resetti and KK Slider. It’s far too difficult to get your hands on specific cards, however, since they come in blind packs. You’ll have to trade or purchase other cards online if you’re so inclined, and rare amiibo cards, much like standard amiibos, are overpriced. It’s not worth the trouble.
HHD’s Internet connectivity is perfect for people looking for inspiration. You have the ability to find other player’s homes through a robust search engine and visit them instantly. You can also save items from these houses to nab them a bit early. There are also special jobs available from a 3DS upstairs in the office, with specific themes, such as a Mario 30th anniversary house. These also give you exclusive access to new items, and if you wish to have Nintendo-focused furniture, this seems to be the way to get it.
Happy Home Designer feels like the beginning of the next chapter of Animal Crossing, but that’s it. It’s a very “one step forward, two steps back” entry in the franchise, and it’s a crying shame that it does so much well while doing almost nothing for me, but creative types will get a kick out of this, as will folks who want to cruise around other people’s designs. Those who dig deep into the design aspects of Animal Crossing will find a wealth of options and fun in this game. But if you’d rather meet new animal friends, it’s a skippable game, with shades of innovation that future games need to take note of.