Animal Crossing is probably amongst Nintendo’s quietest success stories. The franchise has sold in excess of 23 million copies, with each amongst the best-selling titles for their native consoles. Its villages are stuffed with friendly creatures who turn to you whenever they’re in need, and now, in the latest addition to the series you’re called on for help. As an interior designer. It’s a slimmer design brief, thats for certain, but has the magic nonetheless carried over to Nintendo’s latest game?
Tom Nook, the Racoonian entrepreneur, has, in his inimitable way, sewn up the market for interior design, with his new company Nook’s Homes catering for those creatures who lack the creative flair to pick their own furnishings. You are the newest recruit, who, despite other employee’s seniority, is tasked with drumming up business from a cast of recognisable Animal Crossing stars and then casting your eye over their abodes, before fulfilling their design brief and creating the home of their dreams.
These design briefs cover a wide spectrum of requirements, from the candy-obsessed rhinoceros Merengue needing a candy-covered house, to the leather-clad wolf Kyle who wants a house filled with music. Each brief includes some must-have items that are special to that customer and have been delivered in boxes to their new home, but as long as you use them you can let your imagination run wild. After you’ve cut your teeth on a few homes you’re approached by returning mayoral assistant Isabelle to help in the town plaza’s redevelopment, and these tasks see you take on larger projects, from amenities such as cafes and shops through to essential services like the hospital and school.
Each project, whether large or small, sees you select a location on the map before tailoring the site as you see fit. A 3D image of the premises appears on the top screen which your character can move about in, while a 2D layout takes up the touchscreen, along with access to the different sub-menus that contain all of your potential items. Placing furniture is as easy as dragging and dropping it with the stylus, while a tap on it spins it around. It’s an easy to use system that works very well, and is certainly a big improvement over the home design controls found in Animal Crossing: New Leaf that required your character to physically pick up and place everything.
As you complete each task you unlock a multitude of furnishings, floorings, and wall coverings, as well as various items of foliage, and more specific items for select themes. I was particularly surprised by the detail of the hospital set up, with I.V.’s and EKG units sitting alongside the expected hospital beds and doctor’s desks, making it possible to create a very detailed hospital diorama. As you progress you also gain access to the Home Designer Handbook, which gives you more advanced design options such as being able to create your own designs, refurbish items, select bigger floor-plans, or take better pictures of your finished masterpiece. You’ll need to make sure you’ve been carrying your handheld about with you though as you buy access to these new abilities with your 3DS play-coins.
As you progress the number of items can become overwhelming, and they’re not necessarily in the menu that you expect, causing you to spend a lot of time scrolling through trying to find the specific piece you’re looking for. It’s not remotely helpful when specialist items like the doctor’s table don’t appear under the tables tab. You are helped by ‘new’ tags appearing on items that have just been added, which are generally to do with your latest project, but it’s not always the most intuitive of systems.
As with the mainline entries in the series, there is virtually no challenge to be found in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, instead taking up your time with ‘busy-work’. However, unlike the mainline series you can in essence cheat, making a complete mockery of the design briefs you’ve been given. Each task asks you to use a few special items that are either special to that customer, or integral to the functioning of that business, but you can literally unbox them where they sit when you start the project and then complete it.
I couldn’t help but feel an immense sense of shame though whenever I did this, with the customer making such a fuss over how good their home looks, and what a wonderful job you’ve done, that you end up feeling like a total fraud. To a certain extent, you’re going to get out what you put in here, and while you can rush through each project it fundamentally misses the point of the game. The other side of the coin is that with the minimal design requirements you’re able to go wild, throwing in whatever items you feel like. A room literally covered in flowers? Go for it. A cafe made with biscuit-themed furniture? Of course. Billiards tables next to each hospital bed? Well I’m sure it’ll help with recuperation.
You can literally do whatever you feel like – even if that means putting in twenty toilets – and trying to make the best room possible is strangely compelling. Having worked in hospitality for a number of years I found myself spending a great deal of time on the town’s restaurant design, making a catering kitchen that would suit high-volume work, and maximising the potential covers in the dining area. This may not quite be the escapist world that you expect from Animal Crossing, but it’s nonetheless still very involving.
Disappointingly beyond the town plaza there’s no permanence to the houses you’ve placed on the map, ultimately making them simply another aesthetic choice. It’s a shame that, rather than populating the map and creating your own landscape, it just serves as a background, with you able to place house after house in the same location.
Happy Home Designer is a surprisingly good showcase of Nintendo’s steadily improving connectivity with its games, and you can upload your creations to the Happy Home Network, allowing other players to visit them. It also gives you a creation code, or allows you to export a picture with a QR code attached. You can then export it via the 3DS’ image share to your social network of choice allowing your real-life friends to marvel at your design prowess. Or ask you what on earth you’re playing. There’s also an online challenge mode where you post designs based on the same theme in order to compete for points
There is of course the requisite Amiibo support, though this is the first game to make use of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing Amiibo cards, which let you bring selected characters into your game, and choose where they work or hang out. You’ll also receive furniture by using your cards in a home created by someone else, with the information transferring to the card which is a neat trick.
There’s a good level of content to be found here, between the constant flow of resident’s requests and the expansion of the town plaza, which you can extend for as long as you like with remodels and redesigns which unlock later on. There’s also plenty of variety to the different items, and with the ability to repaint and create your own designs you can make something truly unique. The simple and intuitive gameplay will especially appeal to younger gamers, as will the creativity, but the key disappointment is the limited scope. Happy Home Designer captures some of the Animal Crossing magic, but not enough to make it an essential entry in the series.