Early thoughts on Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

The announcement earlier this year of two new Animal Crossing games, as well as a raft of amiibos and amiibo cards filled me with anticipation, and with the benefit of hindsight… hype. I picked up my copy of the first game, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (ACHHD), on Saturday, along with new cover plates for my new 3DS, and five packs of the amiibo cards to tide me over until my entire box (42 packets of 3 cards each, $207) arrives in the mail early this week. There are 100 cards in the first series, so I figured buying a box upfront was a good way of getting most of the collection in one hit. The first five packs I bought had no duplicates, so I’m pretty happy about that.

Animal Crossing amiibo cards

I’ve been playing ACHHD, (which sounds like some kind of attention deficit disorder, a disturbing piece of foreshadowing if ever I’ve seen one) for a couple of days now and I have some thoughts.

Firstly, I think I’ve over-hyped this experience in my head as it does not live up to my expectations, and it seems this is one of those times where past performance is not an indicator of future success. I’d been pumped for this game for a long while, and happily defending it against its detractors (of which there were many, and now it seems, not without some merit) – so it’s with a somewhat heavy heart that I criticise it in this early review. To be fair, there are some good elements, and the game itself stands well on its own, however if you are a big fan of the Animal Crossing series, you may end up being disappointed. But then again, you may love it. Read on, and be sure to comment if you’ve already put in some hours.

Besides being an interior decorator for animal clients that visit your office, videos I’d seen suggested you could later build and decorate a range of special locations such as shops, restaurants, a school etc, and that animals would use and interact in those locations.  By and large, that is what happens, but I found it very linear and flat, and nowhere near to the calibre I was expecting.  I began to feel some suppressed memories of the Let’s Go to the City days, surfacing to traumatise me once again… For example, you can only build a small number of locations as there is no room in the “town” for anything more. From my initial foray, it looks like you can build three or four things. So far I have a school and a cafe (both of which I agonised over to get just right, when that probably didn’t matter to anyone except me – more on that later).  Now, the animals do use those locations, and they are quite cute in their interactions, such as when I caught Tangy running around in the classroom, and Roscoe dressed as the teacher bemoaning to me about the lack of respect, but behind that they don’t interact with you. So essentially you build these things, and then just creepily lurk around… in school rooms… hmm.

As to designing rooms for animals, which is the almost literal name of the game, well this is fun, and there are some great improvements on how it has been handled in previous games. It’s much easier to place and arrange items, and you don’t have to worry about standing just so, in order for an item to go in the right place. You use the touch screen to place items, and can rotate them, group them and move them around very simply. It’s also clear which items can be placed on other pieces of furniture, denoted by a plus (+) mark on the furniture item.

You’ll be given a brief as to how the animal wants their room designed, such as “surrounded by books” or “a black and white bastion”, and the animal will give you a few items that they want you to use.  You’ll also unlock a set or two of new items in your (currently quite limited) catalogue.  You then take your time, setting up the furniture and choosing wallpaper, flooring, rugs and wall furnishings.  The animal will respond with varying emotions, which gives you an indication as to whether they like that item or not.  A love heart is a definite must have, but sometimes they will just nod or smile. I assume this means, they think it’s okay.  Other times they’ll do the surprised emotion and I can’t figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it doesn’t matter much, it seems.  Once you are happy with the design, talk to the animal and it will tell you what it thinks.

After doing a few, I’ve come to think you can’t muck up a design. As long as you use the few requisite items the animal provides for you, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. You will notice soon enough that your catalogue will unlock similar items to the ones the animal gives you, and this is pretty much the formula for what to put in the house.  So for Roscoe’s “black and white bastion” brief, I just went with all the “modern” furniture set (he also loved the “sleek” set) and it was a success.  Unfortunately though, it gets pretty routine, and if you are like me, your houses will end up looking very similar – I have a tendency to put a couch in the middle with a low table, and everything else around the perimeter.

Things get a bit more exciting when animals start wanting to buy a house – you get to select their plot of land on a large map and so you can choose the perfect spot (or a horrible spot if you don’t like the animal haha). You can choose a place with a waterfall, or a lovely stream with a bridge, somewhere on the beach, or on a cliffside – and you can even choose the season they will be experiencing. I spent a lot of time trying to locate the perfect spot for Kiki (who I’d brought in with the amiibo phone, more on that shortly), and opted for a lovely area with a waterfall in the background and a river running through.  You then design the house itself, and can choose from three sizes (small homes to mansions, though the inside size remains the same tiny space), with a range of designs such as fortress, fairytale, zen etc, as well as the outside including roof, walls, doors, fence and bridge if you have a river in the plot of land. You can also decorate the yard which is a great change from previous games where you could only use furniture inside. Now you can use anything outside as well, so it’s fun to decorate the yards according to your animal’s style.  I enjoyed putting a skeleton outside against the cliff-wall of Roscoe’s house for increased creep factor (he is a demonic horse after all).

However, as I soon found out after helping out a couple of clients, there doesn’t seem to be any indicator on your land map that you’ve already used that plot of land and that an animal lives there. It seems like the village doesn’t actually play any part in the game, and you can’t wander the land and look at all the houses. You can only return to a site by visiting that animal through your client list, so that was a big disappointment for me. Essentially you could sell the same plot of land over and over, which given Nook is in charge, is probably his real estate scam all along.

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Indentured servitude, it’s (figuratively) the name of the game.

As the game progresses and you get to the end of your first week, (a big plus on ACHHD is that it isn’t tied to your in-game clock), you’ll open up other features, including the amiibo phone, computer and Happy Home Academy handbook.  The amiibo phone is used to call in a client from an amiibo card. They arrive at the office and you can design their home for them. This is a great way of building up a client list of animals you really like, but remember you can’t browse around their village – you will however spot them in the town and can set them up to play different roles at the town buildings (such as the school teacher, cafe attendants etc).

The computer gives you access to the Happy Home Network, which lets you visit and rate other players’ rooms. There is also the ability to take on a special timed Challenge from Nook, which pits you against other players round the world. At this stage, I don’t know what the prize for winning is (if anything), but I am a sucker for events and I participated in the current Challenge which was to make the “sweetest home ever”.  Dessert cases and giant cakes everywhere!

The Happy Home Academy handbook is a nasty rort and given you receive it from Nook, who gives you a “free lesson”, I shouldn’t be surprised. It gives you design tips, but you have to spend play coins to get access to those “lessons”. Now, before you think (like I did), “oh I already know all these HHA tricks from my years of playing this franchise, I can get by without wasting my coins”, know this: you unlock items and design features from these lessons. So if you want to be able to use ceiling decor, or customise your windows, you’ll be forking out play coins every in-game day. Thanks, Nintendo.

Back to the amiibo cards, which I’ve spent literal hundreds of dollars on already. You can use the amiibo cards in other ways besides bringing in a client to design for.  You can use them to accessorise your Challenge and Happy Home Network entries with additional animals. I say ‘accessorise’ because they don’t seem to do much else but stand around, and occasionally bust out a set of maracas, which in and of itself is pretty amazing (Isabelle rocking some chacha was a highlight). Apparently you can get them to remember furniture to bring back into your catalogue, but I have yet to work out how to do that (hit me up in the comments if you know, otherwise I guess I’ll Google it). You can invite amiibo card animals into the homes you’ve designed also, and you can change their outfits and dress them up a bit, which is fun (especially putting silly glasses on them), but again, there’s not much other interaction. The whole experience is a good life lesson that your clients aren’t necessarily your friends – you tend to stand around and watch them go about their lives, which doesn’t make for such a fun videogame if you were hoping to have some quality villager time!

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer new 3DS cover plates

Just look at those cover plates though, so cute!

So I’ve only played for a couple of days, and maybe things will improve, but I’m not holding my breath.  I’m happy to play the game and I’m sure I won’t put it down for a good long while as it has a good level of “just one more client” addictivity (not a real word, but you get what I mean), but I’m feeling slightly regretful over my self-imposed hype. I’m also glad I am getting those amiibo cards for collecting purposes, as I’d be feeling pretty gypped about now. In summary, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is cute and has some great fixes to earlier issues in the franchise, but lacks depth and may disappoint fans of the series (just as you suggested in your internet comments, entitled gamers, touche’!) The game suffers from assumed franchise expectations, but as a stand alone interior designing sim, it’s good fun.

Have you played the game yet? Tell me your thoughts!

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