Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is not a typical Animal Crossing game. I cannot stress this enough. If you go into Happy Home Designer expecting a sequel to New Leaf, you’re going to be extremely disappointed. For reference, I rolled the credits in about ten hours. Yes, I actually saw the credits in an Animal Crossing game. It was quite strange. There’s still a lot to do, though – even after you’ve finished the “main” construction assignments, there are still an endless amount of projects to take on. For some players, this will provide hours of enjoyment and no shortage of smiles. For others, it will get boring quite quickly. With Happy Home Designer, you really do get out of it what you put in.
As the name suggests, Happy Home Designer is about designing and customizing homes, shops, restaurants, concert venues, hospitals, and pretty much any other structure you can think of. The building customization system of New Leaf has been expanded, and a lot more has been added. Choosing and placing new pieces in your buildings is a lot of fun, and you’ll use play coins to unlock new options as you progress through the game. I had a lot of fun creating a small concert venue with spotlights, stage monitors, and instruments. I also spent a lot of time making sure that the town hotel had a cool theme for each room, as well as the lobby. It’s a repetitive process (sometimes it feels therapeutic in a way), but it’s fun and it can get addicting. The first time I played, I didn’t realize how much time had passed, but I had been designing homes for about three hours. Though you can only work on one project a day, the game progresses at a steady pace and ditches the real-time style used in core Animal Crossing games. Isabelle will task you with building major structures (e.g., a school), while asking around the small town square will allow you to meet citizens who want new homes or help redesigning their existing living spaces. Most clients will have a few expectations (like the spaceship being requested in the screenshot below), but some will just trust your judgment and let you have free reign over the process. This is both a good and a bad thing – it’s fun to mess around and make crazy rooms, but it’s also frustrating that there’s no real scoring here. No matter what you do, your client will absolutely love your work. Isabelle won’t let you finish a project until you’ve included any required items, but those lists are extremely short. Some citizens even bring along objects that they really want included in your design, but they say absolutely nothing if you simply trash the objects and replace them with a statue of a cat. I understand that this is a part of the Animal Crossing spirit – it wouldn’t exactly be a fun, relaxing simulation game if every client was a complete jerk who yells at your every mistake, but some kind of scoring would have increased the replayability significantly. The Happy Room Academy from New Leaf seems like an obvious solution, but Happy Home Designer has no way of letting you know how you’re doing. It’s a lot of fun to get creative with your designs, but it would have been nice to have goals to complete, milestones to work towards, or even some kind of rating system that would encourage players to play the game more and put more thought into their designs. There is a bit of redemption in the way that the game allows you to share your designs with your friends – if you’ve got friends who play, it can be a lot of fun to trade designs and help each other make them better. There are also a lot more spaces for custom designs than there were in New Leaf, so making your own patterns is easier than ever.
Besides designing buildings and creating custom patterns, there’s not a whole lot to actually do in Happy Home Designer. You can walk around the small center of town (outside your office building), and you can visit the homes of your clients. When you visit, you’ll have fun conversations and receive the occasional request, but I never really felt like I wanted to go back and visit with a client. The only clients I wanted to check in with were the iconic Animal Crossing NPCs like Tortimer and K.K., but they’re only accessible by using Amiibo cards. You can use the Amiibo phone (along with a compatible Amiibo card) to “call” an Animal Crossing character who will chat with you and ask you for help. There are a lot of new characters on these cards, and I understand the idea of having a large amount of new characters that basically serve as DLC (more characters, more designs, more content), but I don’t understand why the best characters in the series can only be unlocked by buying a pack of trading cards and hoping for the best – especially since you usually only get one major character per pack (I know from experience – I bought quite a few for this review). I still haven’t gotten my hands on Kapp’n, which makes me sad because I wanted to hang out with him. I’m not sure I’m ready to call the Amiibo cards a cash grab (as many others have called them), but I will say that I’m not sure I agree with the way that they’re being distributed in random packs. It would be much better to just pay for the cards you want. Anyway, I also wish I could have walked around the town that I basically built from the ground up – there’s a map of the area, but no way to actually explore it. After putting hours of work into building homes, I’d like to actually walk around and see them instead of being transported to the front door from my office.
In terms of visuals and sound, almost nothing has changed since New Leaf. Happy Home Designer looks like DLC for New Leaf – there are new citizens, new tunes, new clothes, and new ways to decorate, but nothing has changed much. In a way, that’s a good thing – New Leaf was (and still is) a masterpiece, and the adorable art style paired with a beautiful soundtrack is nothing to be upset about. These elements are present in Happy Home Designer, but they’re just not that memorable. The little tune that plays when you accept a project is amazing (it’s currently my text tone), and there are some cool sound effects that you can use while designing homes that can put the finishing touches on whatever style you’re trying to create.
Though I’ve focused on a lot of negatives, Happy Home Designer isn’t a bad game – it’s actually quite fun. As I said before, it’s easy to get lost in your creations and spend hours making the perfect hotel room or the wackiest restaurant you can imagine. I just can’t shake the feeling that Happy Home Designer is more of a feature than a full-fledged game. If this had been released as DLC for New Leaf or included as a new customization system in the next Animal Crossing game, it would have made more sense than it did to release the game on its own. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and the adorable style of Animal Crossing shines, as it always does. I personally enjoyed my time with the game quite a bit. If you’re looking for a fun, relaxing, and pressure-free distraction, Happy Home Designer will not disappoint. Happy Home Designer is cute, bright, and a good way to keep us busy until the next Animal Crossing game comes out – hopefully it won’t be too long, though, because the content here is a bit thin.