As the first and only paid DLC, Animal Crossing: New Horizons’s Happy Home Paradise expansion has a lot to live up to. And it does.
Happy Home Paradise focuses on the designing aspect of Animal Crossing, something that New Horizons did much better than any of its main game predecessors. That’s both an asset and a limitation for the DLC. The Animal Crossing community has certainly embraced the decoration features, as evidenced by the massive number of island tours or custom designs highlighted on social media. But it also means that it offers very little if anything to those who aren’t into decorating.
But I am, so I’m here to tell all you other virtual designers that Happy Home Paradise does the job. It’s very well-executed, building on the features and general tone of New Horizons. You’ll “go to work,” as the game literally puts it and solicit clients who will paint a picture of the vision they have for their dream vacation home. You then get to choose the location and can set the scene with the season and time of day of your choice. From there, you decorate the interior and exterior, with only a few required items to check off but are mainly left to your own imagination.
The best clients are highly specific. Like Sprinkle, a penguin who wanted a “Castle of Cold.” Naturally, I put her in an icy spot in the middle of winter, decked out her space with ice sculptures, and polished it to bits to give the ice some extra sparkle. The polishing mechanic even gets an upgrade where you can add new effects to furniture items like a chilly puff of condensation. You can bet I’ll be back to Sprinkle’s icy abode to add that in.
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It’s a slow burn, meaning that, much like the rest of the game, you can’t unlock everything at once. Rather than feeling frustrating, the doling out of new material makes you feel like you’re growing in this new role or at least barred from marathoning the new content until you lose interest. While you work your way up with promotion and raises (we love fair compensation), you’ll also start unlocking more features. You can shine furniture to add new effects, change room sizes, build partition walls, and even design facilities like a school in addition to vacation homes. Plus, the items you unlock with each new design are saved for use in the future, giving you more possibilities.
Often as I played along in the main game, I found myself intrigued by certain objects but knew I would never use them. I liked seeing others make themed rooms online or set up sections of their islands as gas stations or cityscapes. But it didn’t feel like me. And I wasn’t going to change how I wanted my island or home to look just because those items were there. But Happy Home Paradise forces you to look beyond your own aesthetics by giving your prompts unique to each villager. It was more exhilarating even to try out something I would never do in my own home. And the challenges that did suit my style were equally rewarding because I got to play with a host of items, whether they were in my catalog or not and change their swatches at my will. It sparked so much inspiration and let me know what things I should take to Cyrus on Harv’s Island for a makeover.
However, what I liked most about playing through Happy Home Paradise was that I never felt like I was set up to fail. Yes, I got more features to spruce things up as I progressed, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like I did well on my first go around. You’re always given what you need to succeed, and the option to go back and change things up later is freeing.
Though I was somewhat put off by the lack of a solid grading system, I increasingly realized how much more uninhibited I felt actually playing the game. It seems you would have to purposefully try to have a bad outcome where a villager doesn’t like your design, so I was often left wondering whether I was actually doing a good job or if the game was just super easy. But when I was actually playing and designing and creating, I was unafraid to dip into pieces that weren’t in the “order” section, which is basically a list of recommended items. I also didn’t feel pressured to use all the tacked-on features if they didn’t feel suited to the space I was making.
Those features, the partition walls, soundscapes, and polishing, also make their way into the main game, both when working on your home and in Photopia (a photo studio on Harv’s Island). And if you’re already the type of player who likes to get creative with their home, this alone makes Happy Home Paradise more than worth it. You can’t, however, change room sizes in your own home or in Photopia. Still, the possibilities between the Happy Home Paradise features and the 2.0 update, breathe so much new life into the game.
There are also DIY recipes to find along the shores of the island you visit to build a new home, as well as vines and glowing moss, which can be found on certain island tours Kapp’n takes you on in the latest update. You’re also paid in Poki, a unique currency to Happy Home Paradise and its archipelago. With it, you can buy rare furniture in the office showroom, and the selection changes every day. I would always work enough jobs to buy up the stock, whether I actually wanted the items or not. If I thought I could use the piece in my home, great. If not, it was an easy sell back to the Nooks. You can also buy items on credit eventually if you’re short on Poki because Animal Crossing just loves saddling its players with debt for some reason.
I try not to go into games of DLC with high expectations, lest those hopes be dashed. And Happy Home Designer, the spiritual predecessor to this expansion that also inspired many of the design mechanics that came with New Horizons at launch, seemed well-enough received. But the Nintendo 3DS side game seemed largely ignored. But Happy Home Paradise rose to the occasion, especially for a design-loving player like me.
If interior, or even exterior, designing is not your thing at all, this is an easy skip. But for nearly all other players, I would easily recommend picking Happy Home Paradise up.