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Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is decorating for dummies

When it comes to style, I've never been especially savvy. You can apply that to my clothing, my decorating sense, you name it — for a long time, my idea of a "nice setup" has been any piece of Ikea furniture that costs more than $50 and actually owning curtains.

When you sit me down to play a game about decorating homes, maybe you can understand why I'd have reservations.

The game in question is Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. It's a spinoff of Nintendo's Animal Crossing series, but instead of paying debts or burying shells in your neighbor's yard, you design homes. We're not exactly talking from the ground up, as you might in a series like The Sims, but there's a lot of customization that comes into play. During a hands-on demo of the game, I got to pick the basic frame of the house, from very slick-looking modern homes to more castle-like abodes, roof styles, color patterns and much more, all in the cutesy style of Animal Crossing.

Happy Home Designer is sort of like decorating your home in say, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but with the biggest restrictions lifted. While much of the game is still subject to change, a Nintendo rep explained, budget wasn't a factor for me. New items are easy to unlock; they just require you to keep designing, and they'll open as you go.

animal crossing happy home designer

There are some bare minimums to keep in mind. Every home you design is actually a job you take from the town's citizens; every citizen will have some basic ideas about what they want. A happy little cat named Tangy, for example, was really digging the idea of a "fruity" home. In practice, this means I gave her a lot of fruit-themed furniture. Another asked for something like a giant toy box, while someone else was really into robots. Upon these very vague foundations, you are asked to build your individual masterpieces.

In addition to the townsfolk you find in-game, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer uses amiibo cards to introduce new friends. Each card contains information for special Animal Crossing characters, such as New Leaf's iconic Isabelle. By importing these characters into your game, you can typically assign them jobs (some exceptions, as in Isabelle's case, apply), summon them into town and, of course, design their homes.

For my demo, I used an amiibo card to summon a deer named Fauna. Like all Animal Crossing characters, Fauna was incredibly endearing. Her head was the size of her body, she spoke in gibberish, and she was so, so excited for me to be decorating her house. Fauna's request was to "bring the concert home," so I sorted through a variety of rugs, furniture, wall dressings and more to find her special music-themed items. Fauna had a few furniture items of her own, too, that she expected me to use — she'd be quite displeased if I don't, the rep told me.

It's a job well done.

I'm not terribly confident in my feng shui abilities by the time I finish up, but Fauna is ecstatic. She trots around the yard scoping out the shrubbery I've planted; inside, she observes my final efforts with glee. Everything plays out to the tune of very happy music. Eventually, there is a mini-party in which friends come over and I awkwardly skulk around and make conversation. It's a job well done.

At first blush, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer appears to be as sweet and straightforward as the series has appeared in the past. It's not really so much about constructing crazy, impossible homes as it is designing habitats for your favorite characters. In that, there's a simple joy.

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