Hands On: Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer Preview
I don’t mean to tease those of you outside of Japan, but I have to say that I’m really enjoying my time in the new Animal Crossing spinoff. It’s being billed as a “girls game” in Japan, but this boy’s loving it. While the game’s “only” a spin off of the main series, the first few hours of play are really revealing something unique. It’s a rather dramatic shift in game play so far, and it makes me feel like Nintendo really knows how to not only survive the onslaught of cheap/free to play games, but to make something similar enough that’s worth the money and reminds Nintendo fans why we put up with so much. Join me after the break for a hands on Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer preview.
After years of talking to Rover and convincing the cat that, yes, I am a boy, and giving answers to ensure that my villager doesn’t have a strange face, Happy Home Designer did something unprecedented within the series: it just let me pick what I wanted!
Not pictured are the hair styles and colors that are usually only available later in the game. You’ll also be able to change your outfit (even your red jacket!), and I’ve heard people have imported their designs from New Leaf via the sewing machine on the second floor. Right from the start, the game gives you a way to feel connected to the world, even if we’re not getting out own house. Although a lot of the eyes feel awkward since they seem to be looking elsewhere, I finally settled on the ones that seemed the most appropriate for a salesman.
The premise of the game is pretty simple: design homes and buildings, both the interior and the exterior, including the lawn. You’ll be given a check list of items you need to use (three items at first, but it’ll change to two as your collection grows) and how many to use as well (which is usually just one). The character will discuss a theme but, from what I can tell, you can go off-road a bit, so to speak. When designing my school, I used a lot of flowers, some fish, and pillows for seats. No complaints from anyone, but at the same time, the game doesn’t use a point system, so you only know if the customer is happy.
Rather than doing chores to earn bells and pay off Nook the crook, you’re given supplies based on who you’re designing for. For example, if you get a blue chair, you could fill the house with as many blue chairs you can cram into the room, and you can use them in other houses too. You can even unlock the “simple remodel” option with play coins to have access to not only new colors, but the gem-encrusted remodels from New Leaf as well, without having to pay extra or hoard items. I’m only a few hours in, but so far, no grinding bells, no buying multiple copies, just designing.
It’s easier than ever too. You have a catalogue similar to Nook’s in the previous game: you can search by categories, like function or color, or by name. Selecting the item places it on the ground or nearest valid location. Rather than having your character drag furniture around and flip it every which way, the touch screen allows you to do this, greatly speeding up the process. In fact, you can even pick up yourself or towns people to see how things look, such as quickly moving two people onto a bench to see how they look together.
Don’t worry though. You can still interact with objects the old AC way. It’s still (from what I can tell) the only way to choose music, interact with curtains, use lamps, etc. However, there are two some important additions when decorating. The first being able to use a “half space.” Before, all our items just took up a square, which you can identify in the above pictures by the pattern. Generally, a square fits one character. However, you can now place and move items at about the half way mark. Because of this, the game also now has “scooting.” When two items are too close together, your character has to scoot between them, and won’t be able to interact with the item while doing so.
The dog from the above photo, Caramel, will be in your town too. One thing I have to admit is a bit disappointing is how certain characters show up in everyone’s game. Perhaps this is Happy Home Designer’s way of establishing a constant cast of characters, but at certain stages of the game, you will always have a certain villager ask for a specific task. Caramel is always the first home you design and she wants to be surrounded by books. Your New Leaf secretary pops her fuzzy head in and asks you to design a school. When the school’s up, you’ll get the same kangaroo Mama asking you to make home with a yard for her kid.
In some ways, I kind of prefer the other method I’ve encountered: two animals are outside on the street and in need of help. You choose to help one and the other will possibly disappear. I’ve had a second chance with one, but others are still missing. However, the point is that there are times you have to choose who to help and who to (possibly) let go. Having more control over which villagers you work with is quite refreshing, especially after years of playing AC and mostly trying to stop people from leaving town.
Villagers seem to come in two flavors: those who live elsewhere and just want home design, and those moving into “New Town,” where you work, so you get to place their home: hills, mountains, rain, sandy beach, apple trees, everything. The fact that this is the first time I can place a sandbox outside (where it belongs!) makes me desperately hope that Happy Home’s design interaction will be at the game’s core.
The game’s highly accessible and capable of taking up lots of time if you have it since, well, it’s very open ended, especially if you’re the creative type. It feels like a game I could point mobile phone addicts to without fear that they’d be addicted and pay out the nose for micro transaction… until you bring up the amiibo situation. While I don’t feel like I need the cards right now, the game talks about them a lot at the start. Pretend that $1 is 100 yen. Each card pack has three cards and costs 300 yen retail. You won’t be buying retail for the most part though. Generally you’re paying about 900 yen, before shipping and handling. You can buy singles, but most cost 500-1200 yen, again, before shipping. Don’t forget that the cards are also random, and there’s 100 in series one alone.
Although it sounds like the cards will have a very minor use in the upcoming Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival, the fact of the matter is that Nintendo really is selling toys and trading cards that interact with games in very minor ways. For example, I have the villager amiibo, but it only functions to unlock a trophy. That’s good for people don’t have the figure, but for those of us with them, the cards feel like a bit of a slap in the face. The game doesn’t make good use of one of the very first amiibo to be released, then makes a whole new market that also won’t be seeing much support. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d prefer if Nintendo were just up front and put bonuses in the game as content and produced their toys separately. I bought a Yarn Yoshi in Japan, not because I wanted content from it, but because it’s adorable. I have a Ness amiibo because, well, I love Ness and there isn’t a ton of Earthbound merchandise. Putting the two markets together is only hurting customers from both markets- the suckers who think they’re buying content, and the toy fans who think they’re just buying a figure.
Overalll though, I’m enjoying the game, even without a mess of cards or true amiibo support. Again, I’m only a few hours in, but I plan on playing for quite a bit. You can check out my Twitter feed for more pictures and commentary, as the game integrates with the site pretty well.