Review by Malorkus
Tom Nook had hit the big time. Following his days exploiting child labor from unsuspecting human children who rode into town, and then charging insane prices for basic household goods, Mr. Nook moved fully into the real estate business following the rebound of the housing market. Always an opportunist, Nook built his real estate empire across the many towns of the Animal Crossing universe. It was the type of cash flow that made Crazy Redd seem not as crazy in comparison. This housing boom was enough to be the emphasis of an Animal Crossing spin-off game: Happy Home Designer. Focusing strictly on designing homes for villagers from the main series, the purpose of this game confused many fans leading up to release. Even after release, not much further light is shed. Happy Home Designer is a fun distraction while fans wait for the next Animal Crossing game, but one that does very little to justify being the same price as New Leaf.
As has become tradition, you are the only human in a town of talking animals, half of whom probably think you look delicious. Instead of moving in as a resident, though, you are being hired as a housing architect. Nook’s Homes, headed by mob boss Tom Nook and his corrupt insurance crony, Lyle, will act as your base of operations. Though you will have a task every "day", Happy Home Designer does not run on a real-time clock like its mainline counterparts. Instead, after completing your daily task, whether it’s building a home, remodeling an existing one, or overseeing a public building, you will "clock out" to save your game and move to the next day. Such is one of many ways that Happy Home Designer attempts to replicate elements of Animal Crossing, but leaves you desiring the real thing. Another is how you can customize your character - to a limited degree. You can choose your face and swap your hairstyle and color, but not your clothes, as you are always stuck in your realtor blazer.
When a new animal moves into town, you will designate a plot of land on a psuedo map. I say "psuedo", because again attempting to mimic aspects of normal Animal Crossing, you are picking off a literal map and can put as many houses on one plot of land as you want. The animal will specify the type of design they are looking for, but it does not actually matter, as no matter how you design the house, the animal will love it. You can create a haunted house for a little cat who wants a fruit-themed interior, and you will pass with flying colors. Animal Crossing has always been a low-stakes series, but the fact that Happy Home Designer is literally impossible to fail makes it feel less rewarding. That said, the home makeover process brings some great ideas to the table that I hope are implemented in the main series. Most importantly, you have a touch menu to drag and place furniture from your inventory. This is a godsend compared to the slow manual pushing and dragging tables you are used to.
For each house, you will place furniture in both the interior and exterior, so if placing Monique right next to the noisy train tracks as revenge for her verbal abuse in past games were not enough for you, you can also make her yard a mess as well. At first, you will only be able to design in small houses, but you will gradually gain more furniture pieces to use and additional room to add as you climb the ladder in Nook’s empire. The majority of the furniture and wallpaper is lifted right from the mainline Animal Crossing titles, so many may look familiar to you. New items that hang from the ceiling, such as chandeliers and hanging plants, are also included, and again seem like a logical addition to future titles. Eventually, you will be asked to build other establishments in town, like a school, a hospital, and a hotel. Again, these are all great blueprints for a mainline Animal Crossing game, but given how Happy Home Designer is so slim on content otherwise, it almost feels better to wait for said future games.
That brings me to my two biggest problems with Happy Home Designer as a whole, starting with the lack of content. As someone who played all previous Animal Crossing games not named City Folk for a full year, I grew tired of Happy Home Designer quickly. Doing the same one task for every house gets repetitive after the first handful, and only becomes more laborious after you are able to work on larger properties. But perhaps my biggest complaint is the inability to save a project halfway through and complete it later. The only way to save your game is to complete your day and "clock out", and with public buildings that can require upwards of 45 minutes to design, this is a huge problem. You are able to edit all houses and buildings later, but it’s still a roadblock in what should be a pick-up-and-play experience. You can also buy Amiibo cards of specific villagers you want to move in, though I was unable to test this on an older 3DS model.
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is essentially a $15 e-shop spin-off game priced as a $40 retail title. As an obsessive Animal Crossing player, I found a lot to appreciate that I would love to make its way into a mainline entry. Furniture placement has never been this easy, as being able to drag and drop from your inventory with the stylus is so much more efficient than manual placement. Being able to design public buildings in your town is another fun mix-up from home decor. Unfortunately, that’s all there is to the game. It becomes repetitive after designing only your first few houses, especially as you unlock new furniture pieces to use at a snail’s pace. Designing other buildings gets tedious without the ability to save your work and come back later. I am fine seeing more Animal Crossing spin-off games, but not when it feels like a stripped-down version of the real thing that costs the same amount of money. Happy Home Designer is in a fancy new neighborhood, but it’s a rip-off compared to the rest of town.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (US, 09/25/15)
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