I love Animal Crossing. Maybe it’s better to say I LOVE Animal Crossing. I spent lots of time playing the original GameCube version and went on to play Wild Word for literally a year. I just finished playing through the latest in the series, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. It’s the first time I’ve talked to a character in an Animal Crossing game in a long time. Hearing the delightful high-pitched jibber jabber was the first thing that sucked me back into the world I’ve loved for so long. But this game is a different take on the traditional Animal Crossing formula, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. However, despite some minor irritations, I ended up liking what I played quite a bit.
Much like any other Animal Crossing game, you’re placed into a town that needs a little work. OK, maybe a lot of work. But unlike the other games, you don’t have your own house. Instead you’re the brand-new employee of Nook Homes, run of course by Tom Nook, who always seems to own everything. You work with other characters, including Tom Nook himself, although he seems to take a lot of vacations because you only get to interact with him a few times.
Your job is to help the townsfolk by designing homes to fit their tastes, and eventually design large town facilities for the townsfolk to hang out in. As you start the game, you’re given a client to help. After being chidingly warned not to screw up, you meet with Lottie, who wants a “lovely” home. You’re taken directly to a mostly empty room to work your magic upon. There are a few cardboard boxes in each room. Once the boxes are opened, you’ll find they contain furniture pieces that Lottie really wants to see appear in her home. You need to use those pieces, along with her style request, to design her home. Once you’ve designed Lottie’s home, you start working with other clients, who follow a similar pattern.
The act of running around the town and interacting with other characters is the same as it’s always been in the Animal Crossing games. But that gameplay is secondary to the designing aspect in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. Much of the gameplay here involves navigating inventory and moving things around. At the beginning you have a limited number of wallpaper, floors, and furniture to choose from. As you move forward, more of these things are added to inventory.
This brings up my first irritation with the game. Some of the clients’ descriptions will be very specific. “I want a Rococo room,” for example. Upon opening your inventory to get started, you will magically see all of the Rococo furniture items added to your inventory. This makes designing the room a no-brainer.
But they aren’t all this way. I really enjoyed designing homes for clients who were more vague in their requests. This brings up another issue I had with the game. There are no repercussions for designing something that was the complete opposite of what your client asked for. In other Animal Crossing games, you could make the characters mad at you if you whacked them with your shovel enough times. (Not that I ever did that, of course.) Here, everyone loves your designs no matter what.
Upon finishing your room, there is a brief animation showing your clients enjoying themselves in your creation. During these animations, using the 3D felt really great. It was like taking a realistic tour through the home. The depth of field was something that really set the game apart.
After you’ve designed a few homes, you’ll be asked to take on bigger projects for buildings that all of the townsfolk use. Each one of these has certain requirements for you must meet. For example the school needs a classroom with four chairs and four desks. It was these larger buildings that I really had the most fun with. Aside from the school, there’s a hospital, a cafe, a hotel, a few shops, and an office. I actually had the most fun designing the office. I’m not quite sure what that says about me, but there you have it.
Between the big projects, you’ll have the chance to do a bit more for clients, like picking a specific location for their home, customizing the area outside of their house, or designing its exterior. The customization of the exterior is limited to certain pre-made models, where you can change the color and style of the roof and the walls. It’s nowhere near the level of customization you see with the interiors of the houses. Another thing that annoyed me was that no matter what size exterior you choose—small or big—the inside of the house is always the same size.
In addition to the basics of design, some other items appear at the Nook’s Homes office, to add to your gameplay. One of these is a “telephone” where you can call new clients through amiibo cards, if you have them. Using that phone will bring those specific characters into the game for you to design for. Some of these characters will also bring new furniture and other design elements with them.
Another item that appears is the Happy Home Handbook. This book sits on your desk and contains different “lessons” that open up new features of the game. You get the first lesson free, but the additional lessons cost Play Coins to unlock. At first I didn’t expect the lessons to be so central to gameplay since they cost coins. But as I worked my way through them, I realized I was mistaken. For the most part, they unlocked gameplay that I felt was mostly add-on type things, like the ability to decorate using fish or bugs. But one of the last lessons was the one that enabled you to use two-room designs for homes. I got to this one after I had finished pretty much all of the game. This made me a little mad. I would have liked to have had the ability to do two-room houses much earlier in the game. It would have been an incentive for me to do more home designs, rather than work on the public space designs, which I did every chance I could get. Granted, you can pick these lessons in any order you want, but some of the titles, especially the one for the two-room design, don’t give any hint as to what the lesson is actually about.
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is a lot of fun. I did have some issues with it, but I think most of them were due to my personal preferences. I really loved designing the insides of the public spaces and the homes that had vague instructions. Those were challenging but still gave me a good amount of freedom and creativity. Happy Home Designer had some game elements that were originally introduced in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. If Nintendo could squash all of this gameplay into a new Animal Crossing game, that would make me very happy. In the meantime, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is a great place to practice designing your home for the next game…I hope.