I am an impulsive person by nature, so the fact that video games are available to purchase digitally is pretty dangerous for a guy like me. Often, I will buy a game, play it for ten minutes and then say, “Why the fuck did I just pay money for this stupid thing?” But usually those are games I grab when they’re on sale for a couple of dollars or something. Never before have I felt video-game-related buyer’s remorse the way I did after I shelled out forty fucking dollars for Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer.
Look, in the back of my head, I knew. I knew this would be a shallow and disappointing game. But here’s the thing: I love Animal Crossing and I especially love the interior design part of it. I love collecting furniture and decorations and laying them out in my home, and the idea of a game which isolated that concept and improved upon it was too enticing to resist. I knew it wouldn’t be as deep and layered an experience as an actual Animal Crossing game, but I figured it might just be fun enough to halfway justify the purchase. Guess what? It’s not.
The basic gist of this game is that you work for Tom Nook’s interior design company, and you are hired by animal clients to decorate their houses with specific themes. So, for example, you might speak with a tiger who loves the color blue, and then you’re tasked with making his house a blue-lover’s paradise. This would be a decent foundation for a game if you were judged or evaluated in any way for how closely you stick to the theme, but that’s just not the case. Here’s what actually happens: For every job, you client hands you two items and insists that those items be included in your design. Then, so long as you place those two items, hooray you pass!
To continue with the tiger example I just made up, the tiger might hand you a blue sofa and a blue table. Then you can place the sofa and the table, do nothing else, and report back that you’ve finished the job. And the tiger will praise you for a job well done! Or you can place the blue sofa and table, make everything else in the house green, and get the same result. The only thing compelling you to actually stick to the theme, or to do anything aside from placing the two original items and then calling it a day, is to satisfy your own personal sense of accomplishment. Which might be enough for some players, but I guess I’m a pretty goal-oriented guy when it comes to video games, so I found this extremely frustrating.
Even with that problem, I had some fun decorating my first couple of houses, mainly because I chose clients with interesting theme requests that I would enjoy playing with. Like this video arcade theme, for example:
Or the squirrel who wanted me to create a space suitable for a comic book artist:
Or designing a home for a pyromaniac:
Even with the awkwardness of setting my own goals, this kept me entertained for an hour or so. The problem is that although there are a zillion items to choose from while designing, there are only a handful of types of items. So, for every house you sort of end up following the same pattern: Put in theme-appropriate windows, put in theme-appropriate table and some chairs, put in theme-appropriate knick-knacks, etc. After a little while, even when the theme was intriguing, this process became extremely repetitive and dull. And by “a little while” I don’t mean weeks of playing the game, or even days. I mean hours. For me, about three or four of them.
Aside from the jobs you do for your animal clientele, you also take on projects to design public community spaces such as schools, restaurants and shops. These are the projects which tie in directly with progression through the game, and therefore feel a bit more satisfying to complete. I especially enjoyed creating this concert hall:
YES, I know the stage monitors are backwards! Leave me alone!
This was the most enjoyable part of the game for me, and in fact was the only part that felt like a traditional video game in the slightest. Unfortunately, there are only around 7 or 8 of these projects and then you’re done, and the credits roll. You’ve technically beaten the game at this point, but the idea is that you’re supposed to continue playing at your leisure indefinitely, taking on new clients and creating new designs. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel any desire to do this at all, and so I shut the game off once the credits rolled, and probably won’t return to it very often, if at all. I’d consider purchasing a pack of Animal Crossing amiibo cards to see if those might extend my enjoyment at all, except they’ve been sold out of every single store I’ve been to. Go figure.
On a positive note, I will say that the interor design mechanics in Happy Home Designer are a vast, vast improvment over the interior design mechanics in any previous Animal Crossing games. It makes moving shit around a pleasure instead of an annoying chore, and hopefully this version will be incorporated into all future games in the main series.
Still, Happy Home Designer is essentially one single element of a regular Animal Crossing game, isolated and stripped of all context, and sold separately at the same price point. No matter how much that element has been improved, that’s still a massive rip-off. It’s no different than if the developer of BioShock took its hacking minigame, repackaged it with a few extra modes, and sold it as its own game for $60. Un-fucking-acceptable.
Goddamn it, Nintendo, you know I love you, but shame on you for this game. Shame.
Ascent of Kings