Home is where the designer is
While Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is a spin-off, it shares many similar qualities to New Leaf. This time you’re not the one in charge; you work for Tom Nook as a designer. Yet you’re once again tasked with the job of housing villagers and keeping them happy, but with a much greater emphasis on aesthetics. As an employee of Nook’s Homes, it’s your duty to hunt down potential clients and whip up tasteful designs for their living pleasure.
Your task for first day on the job? An interior remodel on a client’s home. Sound daunting? Not a problem, as your trainer Lottie is there to guide you through each aspect of interior design as if you’d never laid eyes on a building before. This practice room is in place for you to pick up the basic controls and learn the fundamental tricks of the trade — from pleasing clients to teaching you how to utilize the tools at your disposal.
Each client you encounter will have a particular “vision” in mind for their room’s decor which will help you design according to their tastes. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much whether or not you keep this in mind. As long as you incorporate the home owner’s prized possessions somewhere in the design, you’ll get away with it and then some. The game’s lack of reward for following rules is one of its biggest let downs. As much of your play time is spent teaching you how to properly adhere to your client’s wants and needs, it feels a bit of a step back to not get praised for your efforts.
All in-game objects fall under a particular category; there’s a section for furniture, wall decorations, wallpaper and flooring, and even those all important rugs. Items can be selected from any of these categories in the form of catalogs. Each one also has its own set of various sub-sections. For example, furniture will include beds, chairs, kitchenware, etc. These have been made very easy to navigate, and the search function is incredibly handy as it allows you to look up items by name or color, as well as displaying a list of the most recently unlocked objects. Each client you take on, you unlock a new batch of items to expand your catalogs. This means you essentially just have to keep playing to earn new, shiny goodies. It’s a fun incentive to keep playing, but at times can end up a tad annoying when you discover a pretty piece of furniture which might have worked well in the previous home, causing you to backtrack if you’d like to then implement it.
Naturally, the controls are optimized to better accompany the new style of gameplay. To make shifting items around as convenient as possible, all object management takes place on the touch screen. The allotted design space is marked out here in the form of a grid. Furniture placed inside the room is indicated by a number of squares (or circles depending on the object’s appearance) — the larger its size, the more grid space is taken up. As such, you’ll need to arrange the objects in this system to ensure proper access to the abode and to keep the place looking neat and tidy. The touch screen feels a natural fit for this; dragging and tapping works incredibly smooth, as a flick of the stylus allows you to move, orientate and make selections, as well duplicate items with a handy shortcut.
That said, if you’re old-fashioned or generally enjoy unnecessary labor, the traditional method of re-arranging each item by physically dragging it around remains intact. However, it’s a lot more hassle than it’s worth, as you might imagine. There’s no reason not to take advantage of the refined controls. My one gripe with it is that you’re unable to duplicate a selection of items. It’s a small annoyance if you ever find yourself with a symmetrical design in mind.
You might have already noticed the game title isn’t “Happy Room Designer.” If you were stuck decorating rooms the whole time you’d be anything but happy. And so, you’ll be glad to know you’re soon given complete creative freedom over new clients’ homes. You’ll start off by selecting an area of the map for the villager to settle down at; this can be anything from a sunny environment on a train track to a snowy mountaintop. Then you’ll get to work on the meat of the design: the yard, exterior, and interior. The garden area is no different from a room, except the grass, and its size, tends to be a little larger. It’s probably best you don’t leave your favorite couch out there either. The exterior design is arguably the most limited area, as you select a building type and color scheme for its door and brickwork.
All of this does well to mix it up in the early stages of play, but the novelty soon wears off as a deluxe remodel becomes the standard for moving new clients in. On occasion, you’ll realize the client only has a vision in mind for a single aspect of their home. This makes the process of picking out a nice plot of land and doing some fine gardening rather redundant when you look at the building requirements and realize that the client was only interested in having a professional office indoors. Once again, it makes you wish that the game was a little more goal-oriented to avoid completing mundane tasks for no reward.
Thankfully, you’re not just limited to homes. As you progress further into the game, you’re able to dig your creative claws into much grander projects. Every so often, a friendly face will swing by Nook’s Homes after obtaining a development permit for a new facility (presumably from her mayor boss). Yep, once again you find yourself teaming up with Isabelle (with a much more hands-on approach this time) to help develop a dull, run-down town center into a lively, vibrant place of joy and activity.
Isabelle can approach you at any time with a number of different facility plans — from a shop or cafe, to more mandatory establishments such as a school or hospital. In most cases however, you’ll get to take your pick. The design process itself isn’t much different from any ordinary home, except for the list of requirements provided for each room before it’s able to function as a working facility. Upon completion of a new facility, you attend a rather nostalgic opening ceremony before taking a peek inside. Townsfolk can be found operating the facilities under particular roles, which can be switched around at will. You can also exchange any animal for one of your favorites if you have the amiibo card at hand to scan in. It’s nothing particularly special, but there is some enjoyment to be had out of watching characters playfully interact with your creations. It also makes for some interest photo ops.
If you’d like to take a break from your busy schedule, you always have the option to visit any of your previous clients’ homes to see how they’ve settled. Or, of course, you can decide to shake up their world once more by asking them if they’d like a deluxe remodel or a new home entirely. Don’t be fooled by the former, as there’s little “deluxe” about it. You’re just essentially taking the existing design and adding whatever you fancy to it. While it’s likely to remain unused for the most part, it’s still a welcomed feature for those wishing to populate their favorite client’s home with new objects which weren’t previously available when creating the place initially.
Unfortunately, unless you’re hanging around for work purposes, it’s likely that your stay with past clients will be short-lived, as there’s little interaction to be had unless you want to play dress-up. Your animals brought over via amiibo won’t end up being the life of the party either, as virtually no interaction is possible with any one of them. They’re just tagging along for the purpose of writing furniture data from the room you’re in, which is really only useful if you’re visiting a friend’s. You can use the amiibo’s memory skills to add their objects to your own catalog to help expand it with minimal effort on your part.
There is one last use for your precious NFC cards, and that is the amiibo phone. By scanning in an amiibo, it allows you to read their furniture data or give them a call to receive their personal request for a home design. It’s a sweet feature that allows you to instantly interact with your favorite furry friends instead of waiting for them to potentially turn up at Nook’s one day. While it’s not something I’ll use personally, it’s a fine way to reward die-hard fans of the series.
And that’s all there really is to Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. Aside from the various sharing features for in-game screenshots, there’s little else to do away from designing over and over again. In the end, my feelings are fairly mixed. It’s certainly a fun distraction away from the main games, but unless you’re deeply captivated by customization or heavily invested into the series’ canon, I can’t see the appeal lasting very long. If you’re looking for the same level of freedom and variety as New Leaf, it’s safe to say this isn’t what you want. If you’ve already sunk hours into designing animal homes elsewhere, this is the restriction-free design opportunity you’ve been waiting for, and I’m sure you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of it. As for the rest of us, it’s probably for the best we don’t settle, and instead continue searching for our ideal homes elsewhere.
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer for Nintendo 3DS launches in North America and Europe on September 25, 2015 and October 2, 2015, respectively. It debuted in Japan on July 30, 2015.
Review copy provided by Nintendo