I love Animal Crossing. I remember importing an American copy of the game and using a Freeloader boot disc to get it running on my GameCube as I just couldn't wait two whole years for it to be released in Europe.

There's something about the formula that balanced everything just right. Building up your home to suit your style, interacting with other villagers, and collecting oh so many things via minigames and misadventures.

Happy Home Designer is a completely different kettle of fish. As the title suggests, it's practically a doll house maker. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but before playing I was somewhat perturbed by the idea of not being able to have my own home, or be able to wander around my own town.

Loan-free

In Happy Home Designer you're playing part of a crack team of estate agents who appear to give out free homes, fully furnished to fit each client's desire. You can also spruce up the local area with a school, department store, hospital, and other facilities.

While it's neat that you can design these buildings, explore the city, and even customise each character's roles within each building, I feel it's a shame that you can't explore further afield and walk over to the houses you've designed for your clients.

Almost every character from the previous Animal Crossing games has made it across to Happy Home Designer, but just over a dozen "special" characters can only be accessed via the amiibo phone by using physical amiibo cards you can buy separately.

Happy Home Designer's formula essentially boils down to:

  • Walk out of Nook's Homes and choose a client
  • Choose a spot of land to build on, and a floor plan for the house
  • Design according to the client's vision
  • Earn a new expression (like "Joy" or "Surprise")
  • Rinse and repeat

All you actually need to do to fulfil your objective is unbox the items the client has brought with them.

That's it. You'll also be provided with a new batch of items that fit the style your client is after, easily accessible by the search tab, but by no means do you have to use them.

You may think it makes a difference when your client throws out an excited reaction at what you've placed, but no. None of this really matters.

Indifferent Home Designer

At first you may feel like putting your all in, as I did. The trouble is, much like the main issue I have with LittleBigPlanet, you won't have the entire catalogue of items available to you for some time.

Whether you'll enjoy Happy Home Designer really boils down to the amount of imagination and patience you have. If you're after a dollhouse simulator then it's the best game I'm aware of in that category, but it's even less of a game than Animal Crossing is.

I fear that some people may go into this expecting a fully-fledged Animal Crossing with an extra focus on designing villager homes, but unfortunately it falls far short of that.

While I can certainly see the new placement tools and camera options adding a new dimension to the Animal Crossing formula, the game asks so little of you that you really have to either adore the series's characters or love coming up with room layouts.