REVIEW: Happy Home Designer is a creative box of tools but still feels empty

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  • Nintendo 3DS / Rated E / $39.99 / released September 2015
  • OFFICIAL SITE: animal-crossing.com
  • PURCHASE LINK: Amazon
  • FINAL: You can SKIP this game. 2 out of 5 stars

“Animal Crossing,” Nintendo’s wildly popular series about living in a rural village, has always operated on a slow burn. If you plant a tree in the game, it takes actual real-time days to grow, and more days still to bear fruit. It is a game focused on waiting, but it gives you so many small things to do that the waiting never gets boring. That relaxing vibe is evident in the franchise’s latest release, “Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer,” but the new game forgets to give you enough to do.

“Happy Home Designer” is exactly what it says: you design homes. Working for a real estate agency that also does interior decoration, you meet up with animal villagers and help them furnish their dream homes. A never-ending stream of cartoon gorillas and eagles and cats will tell you what kind of home they want, and then the game gives you the exact furniture you’ll need to bring that vision to life. “Happy Home” is not a game about the challenge of meeting clients’ design needs, it is purely about the self-directed joy of creating cute living spaces with a full set of furnishings at your disposal.

Naturally, the game curves upward into more complicated floor plans and furniture sets, and you can even design public buildings like restaurants or a concert hall, but the basics remain the same. Your job is to design homes, so all you do is design homes.

“Happy Home Designer,” therefore, puts everything it can into making you want to design homes. The characters are all funny and appealing, the controls are easy, and you’re encouraged to take pictures of your finished rooms and post them online. However, because the game can’t bring itself to provide any criticism of your work, the entire process is toothless. It never matters how the house turns out. The animals are happy with absolutely anything you do. That stings, because you get the same thrilled reaction whether you spend two minutes or two hours on your design.

On one hand, sure, maybe we don’t need rude animals offering computerized critiques of our personal design skills, but when there’s no mechanism for judging what you create there’s no impetus to pay much attention to what you’re doing. While previous “Animal Crossing” releases are noted for letting you do whatever you want with little oversight, they also provide plenty of other activities to fill your time. Rather than simulating a life, as those other “Animal Crossing” games did, “Happy Home Designer” simulates a job, and there is a big difference between the two.

“Happy Home” can be fun, but only if you’re willing to meet the game at more than halfway and bring your own enthusiasm for interior design. The lack of meaningful feedback and generally uninvolved clientele might be more of a commentary on workplace issues than intended.

This review is based upon product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Nintendo of America.