Animal Crossing New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise DLC Review – Welcome Mr. Architect

Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ update schedule may have been thrown totally out of the expected cadence owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, but to the 34 million plus people around the world who got the game and put literally hundreds of hours into it – many of whom continue to do that to this day, in fact – Nintendo has finally come through with a gigantic “2.0” free update, timed to coincide with a paid expansion in Happy Home Paradise as well. Collectively, these represent the last content drops the game will get – while presumably Nintendo will continue to have holiday events and the like for the hit life sim game for the foreseeable future, the content that’s in the game now is all the content it will ever have.

Which means that it’s probably good that there’s so much of it added. It might sound weird for a game that had players lose literally hundreds of hours to it – again, this isn’t an exaggeration – but New Horizons was actually a bit light on the content compared to its predecessors. It’s easy to assume that the original intent had been for that content differential to be made up with constant content updates being doled out over a year or so (not unlike other Nintendo games such as, say, Splatoon), but reality and 2020 intervened. What this means, then, is that we get a massive chunk of new content, features, and mechanics, all in one go. To such an extent that it can frankly be a bit overwhelming when you boot the game back up after a while (“overwhelming” is a funny word to use in relation to Animal Crossing, by the way, but seriously, there’s a lot of new stuff the game throws at you).

Animal Crossing New Horizons - Happy Home Paradise DLC

“With the free 2.0 update, we get a whole bunch of additions and improvements that collectively do more than enough to have New Horizons by itself match and even exceed New Leaf (the previous game in the series) as far as the core game package goes.”

As far as the free update goes, you get boat tours with Kapp’n, ordinances to give you further control over how your island develops, new mechanics such as cooking, returning characters such as Brewster, new items (over 9,000 of them, apparently), songs, recipes, reactions, character customization options, furniture, villagers, mechanics such as group stretching and open air markets, expanded storage settings, and just a whole bunch of other additions and improvements that collectively do more than enough to have New Horizons by itself match and even exceed New Leaf (the previous game in the series) as far as the core game package goes.

These are smartly integrated changes too. The core loop of Animal Crossing and especially New Horizons remains undisturbed, and while there’s a whole lot added to it, after you are first informed of it all, you’re also left alone to tackle it at your own pace. It was calming after the initial information dump induced anxiety had subsided to just return to my island and chill there with the villagers who call it their home, spending time in its cozy atmosphere, and its surprisingly beautiful aesthetic.

Happy Home Paradise, the paid expansion, adds a whole lot on top of all that. Essentially acting as the equivalent of Happy Home Designer, the standalone Animal Crossing spin off Nintendo released for the 3DS, it builds on that release, and ties it in to the things that New Horizons itself did better than any previous title in the series – which is to say, customization and flexibility, more than had ever been afforded to the player before.

The setup here is simple, as you go work building “vacation homes” for several villagers who are looking for a holiday. Each of these villagers gives you a basic idea of what they want – a theme of what they want their vacation home to look like, and some furniture and decorations that are non negotiable and need to be in there no matter what. Everything else from there on – and I mean everything else – is up to you. You get to decide the location of this new home, what the exterior looks like, what the interior looks like, what wallpapers you use, what the flooring is like, bookcases, shelves, lighting, drapes and curtains, lawn decorations, fences, even, in fact, the climate their house is in, getting to choose from the four seasons based on what you feel might work best for what they are looking for.

“You get to build and design your house however you want – and it’s liberating and really rewarding to be able to do so.”

It’s an incredibly relaxing loop, because the game really puts no pressure on you. You have access to a pretty wide catalog from the get go (and you keep getting access to more options and items as you go), and you get no restrictions, other than needing to include the couple of items that the villager wants at all costs. There’s no rebuking, and no criticism – the warm and fuzzy vibes of Animal Crossing mean no matter what, you’re always doing a great job, and everyone will tell you that you are. It’s very difficult to actually “fail” – I think the only way to do it is to not include the items you are told to include. Short of that, no matter what you do, your clients will always be happy.

Which, at first, can feel almost a bit deflating – the lack of a scoring or grading system can mean that you’re really not working towards anything at all, and why not include one when the game already has it for your own home (you get weekly updates from them grading your home based on the design, decorations, layout, and furniture)? But, ultimately, this is right in line with the spirit of Animal Crossing, isn’t it? You’re never doing things in these games because you’re told to. There’s barely any objectives or external rewards trying to get you to do anything.

No, whatever you do in Animal Crossing is because you want to, and Happy Home Paradise takes on that spirit, and marries it with the strong customization options and tools the base game had, along with the player’s own curiosity and desire to exercise their own sense of aesthetic. Happy Home Paradise is an excellent game at letting you design and decorate houses and dwellings uninhibited – you’re not restricted by needing to own the items (because you get access to the catalog provided by the Happy Home Academy, and it keeps growing as you spend more time in it), you’re not restricted by needing to optimize your score or grade, you’re not restricted by needing to do anything. You get to build and design your house however you want – and it’s liberating and really rewarding to be able to do so (and it feels even nicer when the game then lets you take a nice and stylish picture of your work to boot).

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If you liked New Horizons, the 2.0 update alone is a staggeringly big one that should keep you going for at least as long as the base game itself did – seriously, whatever time you spent on that, just assume the update can double it if you engage with it like you did the base game. Happy Home Paradise, on top of that, is the perfect addition to have sitting on that now wonderfully content packed and alarmingly cozy package, a great tool that exists to let players exercise their own creativity at their own pace, taking all the strengths that Animal Crossing as a series has traditionally been known for, and marrying them to the strengths of New Horizons specifically as well.

This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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