For months, I've had a specific if not dubious plan for Happy Home Designer. An evil scheme. A dastardly design. I've been waiting a long time to make this happen, damn it.
The upcoming Animal Crossing game isn't like the others. Instead of being the new kid in an already established village, Happy Home Designer asks you join Tom Nook's interior design ventures. As a part of Nook's Homes, you will be the lifeblood of your new town, advising villagers on how to make everything stylish and cool. At least, that's what the game wants you to do.
Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
This is your office. You may recognise some of your coworkers here if you've played older Animal Crossing games....
(Forgive the image quality, the game outputs screenshots at 400 pixels!)
There's Lyle, the sleazy blue otter on the left. There's Digby, Isabelle's cutie brother — he's in the middle of the image there. There's Tom Nook on the top right, looking as Dad as ever. And there's Lottie on the bottom right — she's Lyle's niece and a home design expert. You'll be interacting with her the most.
Funnily enough, despite hiring you, Nook seems to have no real idea of who you are. This, naturally, is the perfect excuse to bring up character creation.
To my surprise, my options were pretty robust compared to older Animal Crossing games. Not only did I have a wider selection of skin tones, but I also had my pick of great haircuts.
I went with something that could be mistaken for chic, but was in actuality a dead give-away of my true nature: I was a demon wearing the skin of a child.
We made our introductions. The employees of Nook's Homes told me how excited they were to see my work; they knew I was brimming with potential.
The potential to ruin LIVES.
Or at least make people uggo houses that they'd regret all the way up to their deathbed, when they'd realise they had spent all their lives trying to pay off Nook's absurdly priced interior design services. Man... I got so swept up in this plan that I'd forgotten just how nefarious Tom Nook already is, huh? But I digress.
Before I could be trusted to handle actual clients, Lottie asked me to put together a practice room. She wanted to see what I was made of. She gave me my directive, which would act as guidance while decorating:
You don't start with a blank slate. Each client has a few key items that they're fond of, and would very much like you to use in the final design. Knowing this, I decided then and there I would never use these precious items. I was the one with the eye for design, after all. The second you pay me for my services, my word becomes law. My design, my rules. I'm sorry. That's how it has to be.
At least... that's how things would go down once I was out of the tutorial. The tutorial railroads you a little bit, so I had to include my client's pink sofa in my final design. But, I did the best I could with what little I had, and tried to construct an eyesore of a room. It was easy, really. The game's menu gives you a selection of sorted items that you can tap and place wherever you'd like using the stylus on the 3DS' bottom screen. You can design and tear down a room multiple times within minutes. It's wonderful.
I picked the worst wallpaper, the most boring house plant, an atrocious poster, and plopped a huge item right in the middle of the room. The result was...this.
Now, what you have to understand is that, the more you play Happy Home Designer, the more you unlock. So I'm sure rooms can get way worse than this. But, all the same, I can't really imagine an actual person living here. So... mission accomplished, as far as I was concerned.
Then, to my horror...
LOTTIE YOU UNBEARABLE FOOL. WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?
The shame was overwhelming. I had just doomed a fellow coworker to live in a terrible home nobody should live in. Worse: she loved it.
Oh, dear Lottie. I'm sorry. You became an unwitting stepping stone in my heinous career. What's done is done, though. We can't change what happened, but know this: I won't forget what happened here on this fateful day. Mostly 'cause the game made me save right after this disaster.
The next day, I met my first real customer. Goldie the dog.
Sitting there, I was face-to-face with my newest conundrum. Could I drum up the courage to trash this puppy's place? I mean, look at her. She's a golden retriever. Golden retrievers are cute. Golden retrievers are as innocent as animals come.
But I had a mission that I intended to see to the end — for you, dear reader. For the sake of science. Let it be known, however, that no game has tested my morality as much as Animal Crossing has.
I threw together a number of decorations that really had no business being together, trying my best to make the tackiest room possible.
"I would never set foot in this room if I didn't have to," I thought to myself. "It's perfect."
Goldie liked it so much she brought out some maracas, bizarrely enough.
Hell, she even took a quick nap right then and there:
Is it possible that the spirit of Animal Crossing is too pure to corrupt, even by the likes of me? Goldie seemed to think there was some sort of higher meaning to my shitty design choices:
Goldie, bless her heart, even tried to show me what it meant to be human:
Confused and unsure of what to make of my soul, I found myself knocking on Goldie's door later that day once more. She was happy to see me. Of course she was. She's a dog.
I then tried seeing what would happen if I used an Amiibo card — every Happy Home Designer comes packaged with one random collectible goody that can be used in-game, in addition to traded in real life. There are dozens of these cards, which will also be be sold in separate packs containing six cards each. By which I mean, they will sell out the second they become publicly available:
My game came with Kapp'n, the turtle who ferries you around in New Leaf. I picked my my card and tapped it on the 3DS's lower screen, and voila. Kapp'n materialised out of thin air, into Goldie's humble home.
Normally, Kapp'n is a bit of a creep and will say unusual things at you in New Leaf, especially if you play as a girl. But here, Kapp'n acted as if he were a mute doll. It was strange. I mean — he seemed to be having fun, sure. Actually, he got a little too comfortable for being in a stranger's home for the first time:
That said, I'm still early in the game. It's entirely possible that imported characters from Amiibo cards have more functionality within the game later, once I'm fully out of the tutorial, but I've only managed to put in a few hours so far. I can't say for sure just yet. Even if they didn't, I'm still tempted to buy a whole whack of 'em. The cards are really cute, OK? And I want to be able to use Animal Crossing costumes in Mario Maker without unlocking them, which the Amiibo cards would allow me to do. This is how Nintendo gets you.
Damn you, Nintendo.
In any case, once I was done soul searching at Goldie's, I returned to Nook's Homes. A client was waiting for me: an Antelope named Lopez. He let me into his house hoping that I could "spruce things up."Ha. Well alright, Lopez....
Notice the basic arse bed right next to the washing machine. LMAO.
This time, things didn't go over so smoothly. I had throw Lopez's prized possessions into the trash, thinking that my vision would be final. But no. He would not let me leave unless I put his decorations back. Which, you know, fine. If you want to live in a dumpster you can live in a damn dumpster, Lopez. Have it your way.
Sigh. It doesn't matter what I do, really. They seem to love it all the same, every one of them. My evil plan was nipped in the bud.
Happy Home Designer's construction is a curious one. It takes creativity to heart, which is refreshing. There are too many games that seem chained to the idea of scores or objective evaluations, and that's reductive. Could design really be "graded" if it's a matter of taste? Instead of falling prey to that rigid pitfall, Animal Crossing just gives you some loose guidelines that you can fulfil as you see fit — so long as you make sure to include a couple of key items that, frankly, are never too imposing on the final design. It doesn't strike me as the sort of game for people who need a lot of direction, but then again, that could describe any Animal Crossing game. They're always open-ended; content to let you live your life however you see fit.
Since the debacle with Lopez, I've taken to playing Happy Home Designer normally. That is to say, playing it to make the "best" designs possible, at least according to me. So far I've made...
A mother's abode:
A room for someone who really likes robotics stuff:
A black and white room for an ungrateful Zebra:
A school for the town:
The school was a particularly interesting project. Your designs won't be limited to individual homes. You'll also be constructing shared spaces and institutions — including the exteriors. It's a lot of power; even being the mayor or a town doesn't match being the town's designer. Who would have thought? What's more, these spaces will have an actual usage. Characters will congregate there and take on specific roles depending on the location, and it's really amusing to see what they have to say. It's a mechanic that reveals Animal Crossing's dollhouse-like nature. I can't wait to see all the different scenes other players stage.
What I really like about this, though, is that Happy Home Designer makes me feel like I'm constantly talking to the characters of Animal Crossing — and they always have something new to say. And really, that's the entire reason I play the games. I wanna hear about the wacky antics of my neighbours, something which, so far at least, Happy Home Designer provides in droves:
I've still got a lot to play, and I very well might return to my dastardly plan once I get farther in Happy Home Designer. Who knows, maybe I'll unlock some particularly trashy stuff I can sic on some unsuspecting animals. I'll keep you updated as best I can in the following days. If god is merciful, I won't destroy myself trying to find an Isabelle Amiibo card.
For now, I will leave you with one final thing: