One of the most loved aspects of the Animal Crossing series, outside of interacting with the various villagers of your town, is the customization options allowed to me within the games. I adore updating my appearance through clothing styles, updating my house with the coolest furniture and decorating in smart ways, and keeping my style up to date. When Nintendo announced Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, a game focused on the customization aspects of the series, I jumped for joy... well, not literally. However, the final product is mired with shallow and repetitive gameplay, despite having some glimpses of brilliance inside.
Starting out with Happy Home Designer, the character customization allows you to create your character your way without the traditional way of the series of some traveling cat asking you questions with the answers influencing your appearance. In Happy Home Designer, you get a selection of faces, hair styles, and skin colors (and yes, there's finally something for darker folks out there) to choose from. Like many things in the game, you can design your character your own way.
The internal clock isn't used like a typical Animal Crossing game. Instead, in Happy Home Designer, you go to your desk at the Happy Home Academy to save your data and progress to the next day. Each day you can do just one project, whether it be for the town plaza or for a villager.
Each villager that frequents the town plaza has a particular request for you to fulfill. This is always to get a themed room or house of some sort. For instance, starting out, a villager wants something as simple as something with an exotic series of furniture, while later on, the desires of the villagers get a little more complicated, perhaps a wedding themed house. Sadly, as long as you use the two or three furniture pieces that are listed as must-haves you can go crazy and do whatever you want. Happy Home Designer does not punish you for otherwise going outside the particular vision your villager in question has.
Town plaza requests are a bit more involved due to having more than one room to worry about for the most part. You start out by choosing from a handful of building designs, and then you enter the building to do your designing. There are projects like schools, shops, restaurants, and more to create delightful designs for. Again, though, you can go outside the box with your designs and won't be penalized for it.
This brings the question of what the point is for designing a room properly because it's impossible to fail a design challenge. Isabelle will simply inform you that you need to include a certain piece of furniture to satisfy the brain-dead simple conditions. Really, the only point is to satisfy yourself with a proper design. What you put into Happy Home Designer is what you get out of it. The experience is quite shallow, but the fun comes from designing a cool room to show off to your friends.
And you can show off creations not just to your friends but anyone in the online universe. You can upload your house designs to Nintendo's servers either after you've designed a creation or in between design sessions. The option to upload online designs does not appear until a good way through Happy Home Designer. However, viewing designs and getting people to like your own designs is quite fulfilling. It's just sad that the base game doesn't feel as rewarding.
What is rewarding, however, is how simple, easy, and intuitive it is to design homes both outside and indoors with Happy Home Designer's interface. No longer are you stuck pushing and pulling furniture in place like the traditional Animal Crossing games. Instead, you use the stylus to choose furniture, plop it down, and you can move and spin it around with pulls and taps of the stylus. Copying either furniture or patterns on the ground is as simple as holding the L button and tapping the desired item to be copied. You not only design the indoors of homes, but you can customize each villager's lawn with decorations, furniture, and even customize the appearance of their house with a large range of options and features. It's a great interface that I hope is used in future Animal Crossing games. It'd be an absolute travesty if it's not.
When you're not designing homes and town plaza projects you're unfortunately not doing much. You can return to past creations and visit villagers, but sadly they only have about two lines of repeated dialogue to offer to you. Still, you can admire your work, and even add to it because new furniture options unlock as you take on new villager requests. For instance, that wedding themed house I mentioned earlier gives you a bunch of wedding themed furniture options to utilize. There is no need to purchase furniture yourself this time around. You can also use Play Coins to purchase new lessons in a book, which unlock new things like soundscapes for homes, fossils, fish, bugs, gyroids, and ceiling and window options, for starters.
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is unfortunately shallow in its gameplay. Making a successful project is as simple as including two or three required items, making for a game that can sometimes feel as if you're going through the motions. The only real reasons to make competent designs is to challenge yourself (because the game certainly won't) and impress the worldwide audience via the online sharing function. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Happy Home Designer just because I love the customization options so dearly. However, many will need something more to have a very good time, and it's a shame that Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer doesn't have it.