The Animal Crossing franchise has always held a special place in my heart. Playing through every single game in the franchise, I have gone on to collect countless fossils, catch tons of fish, and even pay off my complete mortgage on a few occasions. Without a doubt, the announcement of Happy Home Designer piqued my interest, as I was curious as to where the series could possibly go with a spin-off. Unfortunately, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is a failed attempt to create anything even remotely intriguing. Instead, the game amounts to nothing short of a cash-in. There was so much potential in Happy Home Designer, but Nintendo instead decided to settle for a rushed title that amounts to nothing more than a pathetic attempt at a money-grab.
At its base, the game does have a very strong design element. Everything is bigger and better than in previous Animal Crossing titles. The design elements for wallpaper and flooring, as well as clothing, are deeper than ever. Moreover, players can now add in ceiling features, such as lamps and fans, and can even choose to design the floor-plans of buildings in different ways. There is no question that this edition of Animal Crossing packs in more customization elements than any game in the series before it, and it gives an excellent tool-set for all players hoping to get particularly creative.
Unfortunately, that’s where the potential of Happy Home Designer starts and ends. The developers of the game failed to do anything interesting or engaging with the design elements of the game. The main story tasks the player with the job of town development. You are responsible for designing the houses of new residents and new facilities in the town. One day you may be constructing the design of a new school or hotel, and on another occasion you might be developing the home of a new resident. Then, after about four or five hours (even less if you’re rushing through the game), you will see the ending credits and wonder: “What’s next?”
If you’re like me, then you’ll jump back into it, looking for small fragments of any content you may have missed. Unfortunately, there will be nothing there, other than a few more designs without any real progression of any kind. The game features excellent design elements, but fails to incorporate them into any sort of coherent plot or goal for the player. This results in immense boredom.
For example, in previous Animal Crossing games, there was a Happy Home Academy. The purpose of this organization was to rate the quality of a player’s home and offer feedback on how it can get better. The Happy Home Academy is completely absent from Happy Home Designer, which is a huge misstep. There is absolutely no point to creating a good design, or looking into Feng Fhui, because there is no system in place in this game to facilitate any sort of ranking system.
In fact, the game provides absolutely no feedback regarding to whether your specific design is good or bad at all. For example, one villager can ask you to put together a home that’s “good for kids.” Sure, there are recommended items to include, like board games and a crib, but the game will not penalize you at all if you decide to completely ignore its instructions. For example, if you chose to place a wrecking ball and a construction zone in the house that is supposed to be “good for kids,” then the game could not care less about that decision. The game is too open, and the lack of any sort of objective leads to a lack of purpose or goal-chasing.
This problem is accentuated by the fact that there is no economical system here in Happy Home Designer. In other Animal Crossing titles, the system of “bells” as a currency encourages players to stay motivated, as the currency then allows for further expansion of the town. Here, though, there are absolutely no “bells”, and there is no incentive to design more and more homes, as there is no payout. The game would have proven to be far more engaging had the designers included an element of earning money through designing, then allowed players to expand the town’s facilities using these bells. Instead, all these elements become available nearly right away, without any sort of build-up.
There is also an online element included in the game. Players can upload their own homes to Nintendo’s online servers. Players can then visit each others’ levels and rate them in four different categories: “cute,” “cool,” “unique,” or “I want to live here.” It may be cool to upload your design for the first time, but it ultimately proves unrewarding to peruse other uploaded homes for hours and hours.
Finally, the game includes the element of the amiibo cards. The game comes included with one of these cards, which will hopefully prove to most players why they are so unnecessary. After using an amiibo card, players can choose to design the home of that specific character (my amiibo card, for example, was for the character Redd). In addition, if you use the card when visiting another location, the character will appear as a guest. Unfortunately, these amiibo cards do nothing to add in any sort of new gameplay elements, and act purely as an aesthetic change.
Overall, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer proves to be a substantial disappointment for the franchise. Yes, the game does make large strides in the designing element of Animal Crossing, but it fails to create any sort of experience that is even remotely engaging or captivating. Sure, the series’ charm, wit, and quirky dialogue is still all there; though, unfortunately at the end of the day (yes, many will probably finish off the game within a day), manyy players will be left scratching their heads wondering why they ever spent $40 on this cash-in Animal Crossing title.