Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By John Son 06.10.2015 1

Review for Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer on Nintendo 3DS

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is the first of two Animal Crossing spin-offs Nintendo unveiled at this year's E3. However, while Amiibo Festival draws inspiration from sources outside the main series to form the bulk of its gameplay, Happy Home Designer instead chooses to expand upon an existing feature that is core to the gameplay of the titles: the decorating and customisation of houses and interiors. With such a large emphasis placed on just one isolated aspect of the life-simulation series, Cubed3 takes a look to see if, behind the cornucopia of end tables and floral wallpaper, there is a game worth shelling out the Bells for.

On that note, actually, it's interesting to remark that not a single Bell changes hands in the course of Happy Home Designer. Not only is the player's position at Nook's Homes seemingly unpaid (perhaps the only payment accepted is that of thumbs-ups and smiles, both of which are provided in abundance from colleagues), but furniture and house renovations are also charged at extremely competitive rates; that is to say, zero. Although internal logic and financial accuracy has never necessarily been a hallmark of the series, the lack of such instances in a game centred on what is ultimately a business, dependant on revenue to stay afloat, is a tiny, but persistent, niggle.

Perhaps Nintendo thought the presence of such a gritty and realistic system would dampen the mood, because one thing Happy Home Designer certainly does well is nail the charming and inoffensively cute feel synonymous with Animal Crossing; no mentions of overdrafts or final demands or home equity loans here. From the soothing folksy guitar strums of the title screen to the quirky characters and amusing dialogue throughout, the entire general experience is unmistakably dainty and twee. Even the craft-inspired collages on the box art have the ethos of the series pretty much down to a T.

Screenshot for Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer on Nintendo 3DS

However, what the game makes up for in charm and sweetness, it unfortunately doesn't recover in gameplay. The trouble is that with the focus so intently fixed on just one isolated feature, it's difficult not to lament the absence of depth or immersiveness present in games such as New Leaf. They were hugely successful in their efforts to provide a surrogate life, where literally hours could be lost in carrying out various mundane tasks, such as fishing and planting flowers, but the same effect is tragically lost here.

That's not to say that Happy Home Designer is not good at what it sets out to do - in fact, quite the opposite. For aspiring interior designers or those simply wishing to flex their creative muscles, a veritable smorgasbord of designing potential is offered. The number of decorating options given is huge; along with the usual categories of furniture (vast in itself), there are also options to customise the housing's exterior, gardens, bridges, floor plans, windows, curtains, doors, ceiling fixtures, and even the ability to add soundscapes, such as an echo effect or sounds of the beach or wilderness, should the situation call for such additions. This, along with being able to further customise the appearance of individual furniture items themselves, like the colour of sheets on a bed or even the style of a bowl of ramen (choices include Shoyu, Tonkotsu or Tatan-men), means that the possible design combinations and configurations are almost limitless.

Screenshot for Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer on Nintendo 3DS

The introduction of a simple grid-based interface also means that arranging furniture can take place with hitherto unknown ease. Gone are the days of having to laboriously drag furniture around the room; the ability to simply flick through the vast catalogue of items and drag and drop at will using the touchscreen is, for the most part, pleasantly hassle free and intuitive, and will have veterans of the series scratching their heads as to why something like this has never been implemented before.

The issue here, then, is that despite the range of options provided, everything still feels distinctly lacking. One issue is the lack of a tangible rewards system. For example, every house a villager will request will come with two or three pre-set items that must be included in the final design. These pieces are all that are needed for the client to be happy with their new home; trying to finish a design without using these will result in the villager insisting that these pieces be used and the player is politely redirected back to the editing process. Failure is literally impossible. This means that no matter how the brief is interpreted, the end result is always the same: swinging, jazzy music played over a montage of the villager soaking in their new home with wide-eyed wonder, even if it is just a cushion, a lamp, and an oversized tulip topiary in an otherwise bare and uninviting room unfit for human (or animal) habitation. The scene ends, the player returns to the office where Lottie, the mentor, inevitably spouts a generic, "Thanks for giving it your all today!" and the day ends.

Broadly speaking, then, there are three basic things that every game needs to incorporate to some degree in order to be successful: a concept of success, a concept of failure to counteract success, and challenge. It's really quite unfortunate, then, that it appears that all three are virtually non-existent in the gameplay of Happy Home Designer.

Screenshot for Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer on Nintendo 3DS

It's because of this positively-skewed system that things quickly start to lose steam. While the simulated joy of the villagers is initially enough to keep the momentum going, it is difficult to resist the temptation to simply start phoning it in when it comes to assignments. After all, why bother spending an extra half an hour perfecting a villager's dream of living in an eternal birthday party when the response will be identical to the two-minute, three-piece rush job completed earlier? Riding on the self-satisfaction of having successfully completed a design is sufficient to a point, but, unfortunately, the novelty wears off dishearteningly quickly. The only thing to be gained at the end of it all is another name in the client list and the learning of a new emotion; vaguely amusing little character animations that are quickly revealed to have little, if any, discernible purpose whatsoever.

One last observation: facilities such as hospitals, schools, cafes and shops can be built to liven up the central town area, and are filled with villagers play-acting roles such as doctors, patients, waiters, teachers, and students. In a way, it's sort of endearing to witness these attempts to emulate the hustle and bustle of their respective real-life counterparts, but, ultimately, it's all quite superficial. Much like the game itself, the characters themselves are only ever insistently one-note; there's also a steady and slightly sinister realisation that behind the glazed eyes and charming veneer, there really is disturbingly little going on beneath the surface. The lights are on, but evidently, nobody's home.

Screenshot for Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

On the whole, it's fair to say that most spin-offs are doomed to live in the shadow of their more popular source materials. Even so, Happy Home Designer did have the potential to stand on its own two legs - the sole ingredient needed to confirm that fact being the element of fun, which it sadly lacks. Everything is polished to a very typical high-gloss, Nintendo-brand sheen, but without any deep or meaningful gameplay system in place to bolster the charm, Happy Home Designer ends up feeling disappointingly shallow, with minimal longevity. Perhaps as an eShop game the effect would have been softened - at best, there are a few hours of enjoyment to be had, but the finished package lends little to the justification of a standalone release.

Developer

Nintendo

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Simulation

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

Comments

every house a villager will request will come with two or three pre-set items that must be included in the final design. These pieces are all that are needed for the client to be happy with their new home; trying to finish a design without using these will result in the villager insisting that these pieces be used and the player is politely redirected back to the editing process. Failure is literally impossible. This means that no matter how the brief is interpreted, the end result is always the same: swinging, jazzy music played over a montage of the villager soaking in their new home with wide-eyed wonder, even if it is just a cushion, a lamp, and an oversized tulip topiary in an otherwise bare and uninviting room unfit for human (or animal) habitation. The scene ends, the player returns to the office where Lottie, the mentor, inevitably spouts a generic, "Thanks for giving it your all today!" and the day ends.

Sums it up perfectly, for me. At least, that's the gist I got from the demo, and it certainly seems that was indeed a fair representation of the entire game.

Extremely well written review, John - potentially far more interesting than playing Happy Home Designer, I'd say Smilie

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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