Reviews// Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Posted 28 Sep 2015 15:34 by
248 hours, two hundred and forty-eight hours. When I look back at my play history of the last major Animal Crossing release, New Leaf? I feel slightly embarrassed. However, this embarrassment is not because of the amount of time I have sunk into the game and its predecessors, it?s more about how that time has been spent. Aside from a few festivals I can?t really remember anything particularly significant I have ever achieved in an Animal Crossing game.

I?ve never completed the museum, in New Leaf I haven?t unlocked all the public works projects and animals come and go in my village because I can?t be bothered to maintain any level of friendship with them. So what is the draw? Why have I put so much time into these games, despite the fact that I?ve pretty much failed at the ?game? aspect of them? The simple answer is that I enjoy inhabiting the calm, peaceful world of Animal Crossing. I enjoy pottering around, doing some occasional fishing and organising my house.

Although I do enjoy organising my house in New Leaf, it has never been the main focus of the game for me, and even though my house has been upgraded to the maximum size, I?ve only finished two of the rooms, the rest remain a dumping ground for all the items I can?t bear to part with. Consequently, when Happy Home Designer was first announced I was, it is perhaps fair to say, rather sceptical. The game I really wanted, Animal Crossing WiiU was nowhere to be seen and in its place was another 3DS game, focusing on an aspect of the game that had so far failed to hold my interest.

Trailers focussed on the use of amiibo cards, clearly designed to encourage younger gamers to buy in large numbers. The game looked like a cash-in, an opportunity to consolidate on the success of the amiibo range by knocking out a quick Animal Crossing tie-in game. So I approached Happy Home Designer with low expectations.

However, happily, most of my initial fears proved to be unfounded. The game is most certainly not without problems, but a cheap cash-in it is not.

For anyone who suspected that Tom Nook was a capitalist bastard, Happy Home Designer provides all the proof you need. The player begins the game seeking employment at Nook?s Homes. The very name perhaps designed to remind residents of the village that even after they have paid of their substantial mortgages, they are still living in one of ?Nook?s Home?s.

Nook himself has become rather a corporate fat cat. Whilst in New Leaf he at least bothered to turn up to work. in Happy Home Designer he only appears for special occasions and to remind the player to work hard for the company (whilst he openly admits to playing golf all day).

The opening few hours of the game focus on drip-feeding the player with both tools and responsibilities. Lazy villagers, those who can?t be bothered to do the work themselves, come to Nook?s Homes to have their houses designed for them based around a theme that they request.

There does not appear to be any penalty for creating terrible designs, as long as key requirements (this building must have a table, this room must have a massage chair) are fulfilled. This is perhaps indicative of the younger audience the game is designed to attract.

Unlike New Leaf, the game does not take place in real time. Each in game day allows the player to undertake a single project, either a request from a villager or a larger, public works project (more on them later). Items that can be used to decorate the houses are slowly revealed to the player, each new project bringing new tools for customisation. It was at this point that my fears that the game would be heavily reliant on amiibo cards proved unfounded. Happy Home Designer provides the player with a great deal of content.

Once a few of the villagers have had their selfish desires satiated Isabelle, the Mayor?s assistant in New Leaf, arrives to offer the player the opportunity to undertake larger building projects in the village. Constructing larger environments proves a great deal more enjoyable than the smaller interiors offered by the residents of the village.

The game opens up yet more items for designing the layout of a school, offices, restaurants, a hospital and various other buildings. One institution is strangely absent, a bank. I would imagine that is because all of the cash generated by Nook?s Homes probably ends up off-shore on Tortimer?s retirement island. Tax free.

In addition to unlocking new content by interacting with villagers, each day the player is given the chance to study, for the price of some play coins, a ?Happy Home handbook.? This gradually unlocks further abilities such as ?ceiling décor,? ?choosing a layout? and ?sound scenery.? This last item is vital as it allows the player to change the music or ambient noise inside buildings. The default music is extremely repetitive, so the ability to change it for something else is extremely welcome, particularly during lengthy public works constructions.

Happy Home Designer differs to New Leaf in another significant way - the game has an end, of sorts. Although the player can continue to design residents' houses, once the public works projects have been completed the feed of new content ends. Although areas can be redesigned, Isabella no longer comes to town to offer new, larger projects.

The purchase of amiibo cards provides yet more items and villagers, but sadly I was unable to test the extent to which that would prolong the life of the game for this review. As it stands, without the cards or possible expansions in the future, the game is rather short.

I liked Happy Home Designer, but I would have liked it a lot more had more variety been introduced, such as perhaps the ability for the player to negotiate prices with the residents for house designs. The game is obviously not the full Animal Crossing experience. However, the focus on a subsection of the mainline games works rather well. Is it enough to sustain a game on its own? Not quite.

Whilst there may be a huge variety of customisation options, the same cannot be said for the design mechanics which do not prove interesting or diverse enough to hold attention beyond the completion of the larger public works projects.

The level of control the player has over arranging items in each room is far better than in earlier games, but the mechanic of selecting an item, placing it in the room, rotating it and then choosing wallpaper and light fittings quickly becomes rather repetitive. My five-year-old daughter
really enjoyed her time with the game, but even she got bored with fulfilling the same tasks over and over again.

It would be unfair to describe the game as a cheap cash-in designed to consolidate the success of the amiibo range, but there is not quite enough there to make the game worth recommending. Two hundred and forty-eight hours. I felt finished with Happy Home Designer after two weeks.

SPOnG Score: 6/10

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