A home rammed with stuff is a Happy Home

A recurring part of Animal Crossing is the ability to have your home evaluated and judged by a panel of experts known only as the Happy Home Academy. If your home meets their (seemingly) arbitrary requirements then BANG!, you got a good number appear in a letter in your postbox. Hooray for you.

Expanding the lore of this shadowy SPECTRE-like organisation into its own game, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer was born. This 3DS spin-off behaved entirely differently to the main games, and instead of tending to a town in real time you were instead tasked with designing and building (wait for it) happy homes. And classrooms. And other things. Basically, if it was any type of room, you could take a run up and design the heck out of it, according to your client’s requirements.

Although clients have various specifications and wishes, most can be completely ignored and they’ll still love it. The game wasn’t terribly strict with you and instead allowed you to get away with doing as much or as little as you wanted, and better yet it didn’t even have to make much sense. Unsurprisingly, this laid-back attitude caused some players to feel the game had little challenge, but we still enjoyed it and collecting the associated NFC-chipped amiibo cards became a mild obsession.

However, the game did introduce undeniable improvements when it came to the object management in and around your humble abode; you could design gardens, move objects in ‘half grids’, and there was a lot more in terms of item variation and styles. Thankfully, New Leafers didn’t have to wait until the next series entry to enjoy these features in the main games – they were included in the Welcome amiibo update, and very welcome they were, too.

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer released in the latter half of 2015 to a mixed response from fans and critics, although it wasn’t the only Animal Crossing spin-off we got that year…

Animal Crossing: The Bored Game

ACAFest

Around the same time as Happy Home Designer, there was another Animal Crossing project brewing, one that had single-handedly dragged Nintendo’s 2015 E3 showcase down from ‘pretty meh’ to ‘why are you doing this to us?!?’. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, the first high definition game in the series is a party game. A party game that used amiibo, to the point that you actively had to own amiibo in order to play the game, no exceptions. You’d tap your amiibo on the Gamepad, you’d move a randomly selected number of spaces, and then something either good, bad, or uninspiring would happen. You’d lose or gain bells or happiness, and the person with the highest total at the end wins.

an excuse to manufacture the adorable Animal Crossing amiibo line...and for that we are thankful

You do get these admittedly charming little mini-cutscenes whenever you land on a space. It’s really quite pleasing the first three times you see it, but it’s not long before dark thoughts cloud your mind: oh god is this all the game has to offer?

Essentially, yes. The game was heavily criticised for being mindless, uninteresting, and no more than a vehicle to sell amiibo which can now be bought for an absolute pittance. The game was almost universally panned, and there honestly isn’t a lot else to say about it. It’s something most fans would rather forget. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival provided an excuse to manufacture the adorable Animal Crossing amiibo line (the cute figurine ones, not the card series), and for that we are thankful.

Lining Nintendo's pockets

ACPC

And that wasn’t the end of the spinoff train either. In late 2017 Nintendo released the free-to-play Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for Android and iOS smart devices and everyone immediately lost their minds fearing this is the direction the series was going to take forever.

Pocket Camp was and still is a strange beast, taking notes from the main series but stripping most of the game back to a simpler form, likely because you don’t have a controller to guide your character around, only one of your filthy digits. This is also the first (and currently only) game in the series to include the option of in-game purchases or microtransactions. That’s right, you can spend your hard-earned real-life currency if you so wish, or you could be a chump and be ‘patient’.

as a free game, there’s much to like about Pocket Camp

The response to this vastly different way to play was met with some criticism, but constant updates and the introduction of new things to do have resulted in a game that most players rate as ‘fine’, with a few muttering a well-enunciated ‘meh’ and a handful declaring the arrival of the apocalypse, as heralded by this vile cash-grab in the guise of an Animal Crossing game.

For our money, it’s simple enough to not engage with the systems you don’t like and as a free game, there’s much to like about Pocket Camp, although it’s nothing like the full-fat experience fans have been clamouring for since Switch was launched back in 2017. Happy Home Designer, amiibo Festival and Pocket Camp were merely stepping stones to a new destination...

Broadened Horizons

Animal Crossing characters have appeared in a variety of other places as well, most notably the Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart series and from humble, local beginnings the series has blossomed. Its importance in Nintendo’s library these days cannot be understated, and its popularity continues to soar.

The delay of the upcoming Switch entry Animal Crossing: New Horizons from its original 2019 release date to 20th March 2020 has created a fervent hype the kind of which is usually reserved for mainline Mario or Zelda releases, with fans ravenous for New Horizons details since the title was first revealed. After years of diligent work Animal Crossing has quietly become one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, an evergreen money-spinner and a joyful series that brings people together like few others are able.

Not bad at all for a game born of loneliness.

KK Slider© Nintendo Life

Can't wait for New Horizons? Can't understand what all the fuss is about? Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments box below, macmoo. And if you're interested to find out our personal ranking of every game in the series so far (released in the West, that is), check out our list of the best Animal Crossing games ever.