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Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer turns you into the interior designer for the franchise’s hundreds of animal-inspired villagers.
You’ll choose from a few of them in each game “day,” which typically takes about 15-20 minutes to play through. The villager you select gives you your charge: They want a space that has their favorite color, or evokes their favorite mood, or a historic house style, or a host of other deliberately vague requests. It’s your job to use the furniture and finishes at your disposal to turn their rooms into the masterpieces they deserve.
Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is available now for its 3DS portable for $40. If you don’t have the New 3DS, a $50 bundle includes an NFC reader for the Amiibo card that comes inside every Home Designer game, which adds a non-villager character to your clientele. You can use friends’ cards, or buy six-packs of your own for $6 each, to expand your empire even further.
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What you’ll like
A dollhouse with some of your favorite characters in it
Traditional Animal Crossing games let you fill your house with the things you collect. But Home Designer takes you into all the other villagers’ homes, giving you the power to revamp their spaces and give them a totally new look.
You’ll start with basic finishes for the floors and walls. You can add windows, but you can’t add or change the walls or the building’s construction. You’ll move on to furniture, accessories, things to hang on the wall, lighting and the like — all drawn from your collection. You have a lot of freedom about what you choose to put where, which results in some fun combinations.
Most Animal Crossing players already have their favorite villagers, and Home Designer offers a truly cute way to interact with them. Once you’ve selected them for the day, you’ll interview them about their desires, put their place together, then bask in their accolades, and see the villagers using the space after it’s done. Make enough villagers happy and you’ll get the chance to design public buildings, including the school, the hospital, and major stores.
Altogether, Home Designer is a fun opportunity to hang out with your favorite characters.
The growing variety of stuff you can use
Your designs will get more and more detailed and sophisticated as you move through the game.You’re given some things to work with for each house, but you’re not required to use them. Once you’ve completed a design, those items are yours to keep and use in other villagers’ houses, which means that as the game goes on, you have more and more choices to make.
This all leads to a happy complexity that grows as you play, and sometimes, it’s fun to sneak oddly themed items into the home of a villager that wants a different kind of design altogether. My high schooler played this game with me, and one of her designs had a shower in the middle of the living room. “Why a shower,” I asked her. “Because it was blue, Mom.” (I did mention she was a teenager, didn’t I? And hey, the villager liked it.)
Entire item classes are given to you as you progress through new designs, unlocking everything from ceiling fans to window treatments.
Happily, many of the items you get in the game come easily, and some of them are quite difficult to obtain in normal Animal Crossing titles. Want cute emotions for those screenshots? You’ll get one just by completing a house. You can choose your hairstyle and eye color for your character right off the bat, instead of waiting for it as a reward.
Dual screens: the perfect control scheme for designing
The 3DS’ double screen offers the perfect layout for home design. You use the bottom screen to move things around and place them appropriately on a 2D schematic. The top screen shows you what your design looks like in 3D in real time. Small tweaks feel incredibly easy, and the whole thing was a breeze to use. Designing an entire room rarely took longer than 10-15 minutes.
The items you place are divided into tabs, Sims-style, to make them easier to find, and the arrangement seems reasonably logical. You’ll choose from beds, tables, chairs, closets, dressers, televisions, appliances, bathroom fixtures, lamps, plants, outdoor furnishings, and miscellaneous items, including trash cans and full-sized skeletons. Picking something takes a tap, and moving it around requires just a slide of the stylus.
What you won’t like
Nintendo didn’t put a lot of game in this game
If all this sounds like a lightweight home-design sim — albeit one with super-cute characters — you’re absolutely right. Home Designer offers very few game elements.
You won’t win any currency or any new clients with your designs. Public buildings open up as you make people happy. You’ll still get them eventually, even if you’ve disappointed half of your villagers. No one is keeping score. You can share your designs online via the Miiverse, QR codes, the “Happy Home Network,” or social media, but the accolades of other players are the only rewards you’ll see.
You won’t build your own furniture or items. All of them are handed to you, at one time or another.
All of this is not to say that Home Designer lacks depth. With more than 300 villagers to design for, you’re unlikely to run out of gameplay quickly. If you’re looking for competition or collecting credit or any of those other video game tropes, however, you won’t find them here.
Nintendo named Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer perfectly. This Animal Crossing game will turn you into a designer that designs happy little homes for its creatures. It just doesn’t offer you anything else, so be warned.
Spaces are small and simple
The game limits most design spaces to tiny bedroom-sized areas, so you can give up on that dream of designing gigantic mansions for all your virtual friends. You can’t scale furniture up to gigantic proportions or combine items together easily, so you’re pretty well stuck with the extensive selection of items you build up over time, as is. I didn’t immediately find a way to go back and redesign the homes of any villagers I’d already picked.
This feels a lot more like a mobile game than most of the Animal Crossing titles. You’ll find it easy to pick up and put down as you have a few minutes. When you’re looking for a quick smile, Happy Home Designer delivers. But it doesn’t have that engrossing, addictive feel so many of the Animal Crossing releases create so well. Once you’ve picked a villager to design for, you’re stuck in that interaction until you’re done, unable to swap to anything else or go back, which proves annoying, even if it’s short.
Wait, where’s MY house?
Unlike the traditional Animal Crossing games, the one house you’ll never see is your own. You don’t get to use all these cool things you collect to design your own space. This is a job, after all, and when you’re done, you leave all that behind.
That’s unfortunate but perhaps a concession made to keep from confusing other Animal Crossing players. If Happy Home Designer lets you bypass the unbelievable amount of work all this stuff takes in the other Animal Crossing experiences, it would make them feel pretty pointless from an item-accumulation point of view.
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer feels like a minigame for fans of the series. It features some of the best characters, gives you the chance to play house with their possessions, and offers the opportunity to put your unique design flair all over the village. The selection of items grows as you complete the game, which makes it feel even deeper than the broad selection of villagers you can choose. And its control scheme is simple and perfect.
This title has some of the most modest aspirations of any of the Animal Crossing titles, but it delivers on them spectacularly. If you don’t mind making your next adventure in the franchise a home-design focused one, you’ll enjoy this.
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is available now from Nintendo for $40 for Nintendo 3DS. GamesBeat received a copy of the game for purposes of writing this review.
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