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Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer Review: Inferior Decoration

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer takes just one mini-game from the series, strips out some of the complexity, and makes you do it over and over again. Our review.


Animal Crossing has always been shallow, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for with breadth. The sheer variety of activities has sustained Nintendo's cute life simulator for years, as we repeatedly get hooked on decorating, paying off a mortgage, fishing, bug catching, and more. Now imagine taking just one of those activities, actually stripping out some of the already bare-bones complexity, and doing it over and over again. That's Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer.

Motivated Seller

Happy Home Designer takes the house decorating aspect of Animal Crossing and attempts to build an entire game around it. As the latest upstart employee to Nook's Homes, you're tasked with designing houses for the various residents of the town. Each animal has his or her own design sense, so you might be asked to decorate using a particular type of furniture, or to only use certain colors. 

I had started out a plucky and fresh-faced interior decorator, putting real care into my designs. After experimenting with the system, though, I realized none of that actually mattered. The clients would be thrilled even if all you did was open their existing boxes--full of one or two of the themed items--and tell them you were done. At one point a deer thanked me effusively and praised my design acumen, when all I had done was unpack her couch. 

Even if you do take your job more seriously, there's no metric for success. Happy Home Designer has removed the feng shui element, so there's no special criteria or scoring to make your design more or less successful. There's no budget to work within. The utter pointlessness of my actions sucked all the fun from the experience. 

Before long, you get promoted to handle a special project, building public works projects like a hospital and school along with important city businesses like a restaurant and hotel. Eventually sensing that constructing the town was my one hope of seeing credits--the blissful escape I craved--I went for the critical path. I constructed public works every time it was offered.

Though more large-scale, these projects are just as dull and lifeless as the rest. Each room has a set of criteria that must be met to finish the project. A cafe might need a table, two chairs, and a cash register, for example. But, tapping on the list of required items automatically brings up a menu of everything that would fit the bill, so there's no challenge to finding the correct pieces of furniture. Each individual selection would pop me out of the menu, so going back into it to find the next item on the list became a tedious time-waster. And again, there was no measure for a successful design. My assistant on the projects, Isabelle, was very happy with a restaurant I had designed, despite the fact that the tables and chairs were blocking the doorway.

Realty Bites

My coworkers were little help. Lottie, who started every single day telling me to do my best, became my personal kitten poster. Hang in there! Another had set up an Amiibo phone, to call Amiibos, you see. What if you want to call anyone else? Too bad, he said. This is an Amiibo phone. I used the Amiibo phone once, using an included Amiibo card. The client, a pink otter named Pascal, told me to design him a house, and gave me no criteria. What little structure the game had somehow became even less so. 

At times I wondered if this was all an artistic choice, and Nintendo had decided to make it's own version of Work Time Fun. No no, you're not supposed to enjoy it. It's supposed to show that being a working adult is a pointless, futile exercise where nothing you do matters and every day is more crushing and soulless than the last. Your stupid smiling animal coworkers are polite enough but distracted by running on their own hamster wheels of ennui. 

But no. I ultimately concluded that it's not meant to be that deep. It's just a boring game.

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer may be meant for kids, but I think we need to give kids more credit than that. It takes what was already a simple mini-game distraction and makes it even less complex, and what's left is just monotonous, repetitive work. 

This review is based on a 3DS retail copy provided by the publisher. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is available now for $39.99. The game is rated E.

  • Cute and charming characters
  • Lacks complexity of even New Leaf mini-game
  • Nothing you do actually matters
  • Boring, repetitive, tedious work
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