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Nintendo really loves milking its spin-offs, doesn’t it? I don’t even need to mention Mario, because that mustachioed Italian plumber has been in more non-Mario titles than anyone can really remember, or bother to care about. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Some spin-offs are often more enjoyable than the original games themselves, offering new mechanics and a refreshing take on Mario and Luigi’s now very stale gameplay formula.
The latest title to get the rebuff treatment is Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and thankfully, I can report there are no plumbers present in this title. That is however a wonderful segue. As you might’ve guessed by now, Nintendo’s using that usual ploy of stating pretty much everything the game is in the title.
Using the Animal Crossing series’ characters as a base, you play as the town’s new recruit interior decorator, or happy home designer if you will. Slowly, you work your way into the company known as Nook’s Homes, and become a Martha Stewart-like superstar literally overnight. After designing like two one-roomed houses.
As this is a brand new town, you have plenty of possible clientèle, and as your legendary status grow, so does your client base. Each character you decorate for has a particular plan and taste for their living space. Some fancy classic, homely living rooms while others want their entire space to be a shrine to fruit. It’s strange, but that’s what makes this game fun.
I wouldn’t so much call this a sandbox game, but rather an open-room game. You can use the items in your various Ikea-like catalogs to spruce up habitations of your anthropomorphic clients, which ranges from scatter cushions to flat screen televisions to banana lamps and the odd indoor football arena (some characters are seriously extravagant).
Although the game will give you plenty of forced story clients in the beginning of the title, your character slowly gains independence, and finding work involves talking to random townsfolk with varying design tastes.
But there’s one real problem about this: the challenge doesn’t really ramp up. The game provides users with adequate furniture and trimmings to suit the client’s taste, and the real challenge is finding which doily matches which wall clock. Yes, it’s all good fun, but it’s not a game that’s going to give you thrills.
It’s strange, but that’s what makes this game fun
You’re also given ample time to design each scene, so there’s no a la Zelda time-loop mechanic.
Happy Home Designer also comes with its special lot of Amiibo cards — they’re cards, but they’re Amiibo too — which you can use to plunge new characters into the game world. And while this mechanic works excellently, it doesn’t really add much to the title.
If anything this game is more a teacher aid. It’s an interactive mirror on which your tastes and personal preferences are reflected through the game world. And for this reason, it’s hypnotically therapeutic. I often found myself playing for hours on end, eventually breaking from the title with sore hands and a cricked neck. It was all totally worth it though. It’s a great game to pass the time, without making you sweat or providing a ridiculous challenge that you can’t complete within the Johannesburg to Cape Town flight time.
So, would I recommend it? Well, I’ve been playing this game for five months on and off now, so it has to be doing something right. If you loved the settlements feature in Fallout 4, or have extensive experience in Minecraft, then this is your lot.
Release Date: 2 October 2015
Developer: Nintendo EAD, Monolith Soft
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS (review platform)
Launch Price (RRP): R579
Industry Average Score: 67/100
Verdict: It’s like the Sims, but the characters are cuter, the graphics are more suited to its platform and the gameplay is relatively fun. It’s not the most absorbing thing you’ll play this decade, but it’s definitely a time waster, and for that alone, it’s one of those just-in-case titles that shine in waiting rooms or during boring commutes.