Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer
Animal Crossing games offer a digital life that has a nasty habit of impinging upon your real-world existence. By contrast, Happy Home Designer is a virtual vocation that slots neatly into your leisure time. Announced in spring and released by autumn, this surprise offshoot might look like a rush job, but that’s not the style of a series accustomed to taking its own sweet time. Yes, it’s much narrower in focus, and inherently less absorbing if you have no interest in interior design, but it’s every bit as well-crafted and winningly scripted as its predecessors.
After being welcomed by several familiar faces – and one newcomer, in the form of Lyle’s niece, Lottie – to the titular role, you quickly settle into a routine. Villagers approach you with ideas for their dream home, and you’re tasked with making those dreams come true. If Animal Crossing was about setting personal targets, this gives you a clear goal, but total creative freedom in how you achieve it. That can be paralysing, not least since you have such an embarrassment of riches at your disposal. Where before you relied upon purchases, trades and orders to steadily expand your catalogue of home-building parts, you’re presented with an array of options with each new job that comes in. Happily, if Completing a task prompts a short vignette in which you’ll see the animal enjoying their home; if it’s a facility, you’ll see your workmates chatting, eating or shopping. You can take in-game snaps as mementos of your work you’re stuck, a tab immediately takes you to the latest additions that coincide with the current request.
Most animals will give you a style (chic, exotic) or a theme (a superhero den, a rock band rehearsal room), while some are more specific, such as the hamster who wants to celebrate his love of smoked foodstuffs. As your repertoire expands, so too will your reputation. Isabelle will pop in to ask you to design cafés and classrooms as the sparse town plaza expands; later, you’ll be handed the responsibility of choosing between floor plans and exteriors as you build hotels and concert halls. More subversive designs aren’t frowned upon, either: so long as you’ve got in the few non-negotiables on your checklist, no one’s going to complain if your school looks more like a detention centre.
There’s no challenge in the traditional sense, then, though you might be surprised at how much time you spend on a request, even with an intuitive drag-anddrop interface speeding up the process. Is it the ability to tailor so many specifics, such as curtain designs and the text on whiteboards, that encourages fastidiousness, or the absence of traditional rewards that spurs you to take pride in your work? Either way, with brow furrowed and stylus gnawed, we caught ourselves agonising over whether or not to remodel a rococo chair in a different shade – testament to a spinoff that works unexpectedly hard to win you over.