The last Animal Crossing game, New Leaf (reviewed over here), put you in charge of running the whole town, and the game was a remarkable success, selling well over 7 million copies. The newest Animal Crossing game takes a vastly different strategy. Instead of putting you in charge of running the town, you’re now in charge of…interior design. I grab my wallpaper paste, decorator’s handbook, and keen eye for making sure the drapes match to bring you this review.

Happy Home Designer is not a traditional Animal Crossing game at all, but it features the same characters and the same world. For one, you’re back in the employ of Tom Nook, and now you’re selling beautiful homes for Nook’s Homes. While Nook himself is usually out playing golf, your main contact at Nook’s Homes is Lottie. And even then, the two of you have little enough to chat about, since your primary role as a salesperson is to go out there and drum up business. As usual, you’re the only human in the town.

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The way the game works is that each town denizen gives you a very rough idea of what they want in a dream house, and you get to put it together. In theory, two different people could design two very different houses for the same animal. As you become more experienced at interior design, you’re eventually allowed to work on the exterior as well, designing gardens and so on. Isabelle, the town mayor’s PA, even comes along to ask you to design shops and hospitals. As you fill out the roster of characters, they’ll start appearing in the town square and working in the facilities you build. There are no overall sales goals, no money, no massive town to visit. Once you’ve unlocked a piece of furniture or a wall design or a fixture, it’s available to you forever afterwards in the catalog. It’s a case of design one home, sleep, repeat. You can visit the homes of animals you’ve already worked for, and repeat, because occasionally they ask for redesigns.

The game’s big feature is the introduction of the new Animal Crossing amiibo cards. The cards are, to all intents, amiibo, and act as such, but can also be used as trading cards. The first series contains 100 cards, which come in packs of five. Using the amiibo card works the same as using any other amiibo: you tap the card to the NFC area on the New 3DS (or the NFC reader on the original 3DS) and the animal on the card comes to life in the game. You obtain unique items in the catalog with each animal, giving you further reason to collect the cards. I have to admit, it’s got my collector’s itch going all twitchy.

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The actual mechanics of designing a home has been streamlined to perfection in Happy Home Designer. Just about everything is managed from the touch screen, and you can simply use the stylus to move things around, duplicate things, and select new things from the catalog. The whole atmosphere of designing is fairly relaxed, too: as long as you’re including things that the client wants to have, you’re good. You can also use the client’s reactions to things as a way of figuring out whether some of the less obvious items would be welcome. But other than that, there are no real points, no score, and no way of telling how well you did. I suppose it’s a case of “the satisfaction of a job well done is its own reward”. It’s very much an Animal Crossing game in that respect.

Once you’ve created a home or facility, you can upload it to the Happy Home Network, a showcase of other people’s work that you can look through and explore. There are monthly theme competitions that you can enter as well, giving you a more rigid design goal to attempt. The Network allows you to rate other people’s work, as well as copy artwork and designs you’ve seen (provided the creator has given permission for this).

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Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is definitely a lot of fun to play, but it sits within a strange niche. It’s not a traditional Animal Crossing game, and that might put off existing fans. However there are the cards, which might attract new fans. The game pretty much expands on a single feature of the Animal Crossing games, streamlining it and making it into a full game. Without defined goals to attain, it might put off some players, but then again, with the Minecraft generation, it might be precisely what they want. I’ve a lot of difficulty making my mind up about this game, because it feels a lot more like something out of the mobile game space, but on a traditional console. I personally enjoyed it, because I have an artistic bent anyhow. I liked the freedom to play around within a set of very loose bounds and ideals, because I was creating something that was fairly unique, but something that the denizens of Animal Crossing would enjoy. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it you do enjoying arranging furniture and trying to get the feel and atmosphere just right, I think you’re going to have a hard time putting it down.

Final Score: 7 Happily Homed Prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa
Platform: Nintendo 3DS Family
Release date: 2 October 2015
Age Rating: Everyone
Website: http://animal-crossing.com/happy-home-designer/