No room for own style in decorating game

Featuring cutesy talking animals, charming music and stress-free gameplay, the Animal Crossing series has always been one of Nintendo's strongest franchises.

As a long-time fan, I was naturally excited when its latest game, Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer, finally hit the stores. But two hours after eagerly ripping off the shrink wrap and firing up the game, disappointment started setting in.

The series' first spin-off title, Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer, as its title suggests, lets gamers play the role of a budding interior decorator. Beautifying one's abode is one of the Animal Crossing series' most-loved gameplay features, and Happy Home Designer goes big on this. Players have access to design and customisation tools as well as hundreds of different items and furniture, wallpaper and flooring patterns.

While this new take on the series packs lots of potential, Happy Home Designer has unfortunately been stripped of the many signature Animal Crossing gameplay elements that make the games fun.

Gone is the charming village where your main character (the only human and newest resident) can roam about freely and make friends with the animals living there.

Instead, you are mostly confined to the town's main street, where your avatar, now an employee at an interior design firm, is tasked with helping random customers decorate their homes.

The game plays like a never-ending string of furniture arrangement quests - you talk to a customer to find out what kind of furniture they like and then dress up their homes accordingly.

There is little room to express your individual style. If a client asks for pink furniture and you pick blue items instead, you are not going to get rated highly regardless of how creative your interior design concepts are.

In the later stages, the game lets you design outdoor areas such as gardens, as well as public spaces including a store, cafe and hospital. But even here, there is little variety in gameplay - you simply perform the same furniture-arranging tasks all over again.

The result is a title that gets boring after a while. The design jobs are also too simple to keep anyone but younger kids entertained. There is no deeper element, such as working on a given budget.

Unlike other games in the Animal Crossing series, you do not get a home of your own in Happy Home Designer. With the game so focused on design and boasting upgraded creative tools, it was sad that I was not given a space to design and decorate as I please.

Interactions with the town's animal residents, a highlight of any Animal Crossing game, are also limited. While you can still visit them in this game, they act more like clients than friends. Leaving out all these much-loved features from the game makes it feel quite empty.

While Happy Home Designer retains some of the charm from the Animal Crossing series in its cute art style and quirky animal characters, this title feels at most like a temporary distraction from the main games.

For fans of the series, Happy Home Designer may still be a worthwhile buy if you enjoy the interior design aspect in the previous titles. But for people new to the Animal Crossing series, get the main game, Animal Crossing New Leaf, instead.



PRICE: $62.90
PLATFORM: Nintendo 3DS
GENRE: Simulation

This article was first published on November 19, 2015.
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