Island in the Sun (or snow or rain)
The arrival of Animal Crossing: New Horizons can be considered a perfect example of a product hitting at the right place, right time. Making its debut right as the pandemic upheaved the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, it became an anchor point for millions as something that could help us get through the uncertainty of COVID-19 and keep us connected with those we loved.
There was much fervor for the title in its early days, and Nintendo did well to keep players interested with updates that added some new-but-mostly-returning features to the title over its inaugural year. But by the time it started to celebrate its first anniversary, the updates became less frequent and note-worthy. For a while, New Horizons players were left in a holding pattern as Nintendo remained quiet on what was next for the 30 million+ selling title. After several months, our patience was rewarded with the announcement of Version 2.0 and the Happy Home Paradise paid DLC.
Both provided ample reasons for players to return to their islands. Version 2.0’s introduction of Brewster’s cafe, the gyroids, and original villagers like Ace and Zoe was enough to get me back to caring for my island, but it’s the Happy Home Paradise DLC that’ll keep me playing for weeks to come.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise (Nintendo Switch)
Released: November 5, 2021
MSRP: $24.99 or part of Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack ($50/year)
Of course, not everybody is going to see this DLC the same way I do. People played and continue to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons for very different reasons. When Version 2.0 dropped, I chuckled when our own Eric Van Allen admitted he didn’t develop his island enough to have access to some of the new content. As he explained to me on Twitter, he spent most of his time visiting friends’ islands and playing the stalk market. In comparison, I rarely did either of those activities as I focused on trying to design an island as amazing as those I found plastered all over social media last year. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen.
Ultimately, I spent most of my time doing what I always do in Animal Crossing games: fidgeting around my house. There are days where I’d log in only to redecorate my bedroom, not bothering to step outside and say hello to my neighbors. There is just something about home renovations and decorating that scratches an itch for me, which is why Happy Home Paradise — and its predecessor, Happy Home Designer — feels like it’s custom-made for me.
When you purchase and download the Happy Home Paradise DLC, you’ll be introduced to Lottie at your island’s airport. Lottie, who made her debut in Happy Home Designer, has a new business venture that she’d like you to be a part of. It’s called “Paradise Planning”, where you’ll design fabulous vacation homes for the Animal Crossing one-percenters while getting paid in scrip you can only use at the company store. Each customer will have a rough idea of what it is they’re looking for (a lot of wood in a house, be surrounded by riches) as well as a small handful of items that must be included. Those specific items will be shipped to whatever house location you pick for them, and as long as you don’t delete them, you really can’t mess up with your design.
Don’t come into Happy Home Paradise thinking there are going to be some stringent requirements or actual knowledge of design concepts like feng shui required to succeed here. Much like Animal Crossing proper, the point of this DLC is not to challenge you, but to give you a pleasant and relaxed outlet for your creativity. With each vacation home request you get, you’ll be given access to a growing number of objects you can place inside and outside the house. Some of these objects are suggested for the task as hand, but you can choose to ignore those items if they don’t fit into the design you have in mind. In fact, you can have nothing in mind and just do the bare minimum of unwrapping those required items and still get a satisfied customer.
Having such a low barrier to success means you’re only to get out of Happy Home Paradise what you put into it. There are no scores or grades to push you here. This is a supply-your-own-motivation type of experience. If you’re excited about the prospect of designing a house that’s a garden sanctuary or a place to host an elegant tea party, there is a lot of fun to be had. If that doesn’t sound the slightest bit interesting to you, then this DLC is not worth the money.
For those who do find pleasure in fine-tuning their interior decorating skills, know there is more to this DLC than just vacation homes. Much like with Happy Home Designer, Lottie will ask for your assistance in fixing up old facilities on the island, such as a school, a restaurant, and a hospital. Doing so will unlock further design capabilities, like when Lief comes and gives a lecture at your redesigned school and gives you access to hybrid flowers. Some of the skills and objects you gain in Happy Home Paradise can be transferred back to your home island, such as polishing objects with different effects or setting up partition walls in your house. Disappointingly, these partition walls are only for show as you can’t hang anything on them.
You’ll also be able to buy exclusive new furniture pieces that you can take back home. Each vacation house you design will reward you with Poki you can spend at the Paradise Planning store. Only a handful of items are made available each day, which is actually a good enough reason to take your time with this DLC. When New Horizons first dropped, you had people playing the game for hours at a time, which was never how Animal Crossing was intended to be played. While it is possible to speed run through Happy Home Paradise, doing so will ultimately result in a situation where you’ll need to log back in and fly out to the island day after day just to spend all the Poki you’ve earned.
I enjoyed my time with Happy Home Designer on the Nintendo 3DS, but having that gameplay attached as DLC to a mainline Animal Crossing entry — rather than as its own thing — is ultimately a better use of the concept. Because Happy Home Paradise compliments New Horizons quite well. The two experiences feed into one another. The DLC unlocks new skills and objects you can use on your home island, and in turn, New Horizons provides your island neighbors as potential new customers for Paradise Planning. You can also invite villagers using amiibo and amiibo cards, and this is really the only point of contention I have with this DLC.
Nintendo, despite its origins as a playing card company, cannot be relied upon these days to produce amiibo cards in large enough quantities to reach all of its potential customers. Happy Home Paradise is compatible with every Animal Crossing amiibo card released so far, but the first four series of those cards that were produced initially for Happy Home Designer, Animal Crossing amiibo Festival, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Welcome amiibo are out of print. Series 5, which was announced the same day as the DLC, has been nearly impossible to get your hands on if you rely on online shopping. I know a large part of this has to do with the current collector’s climate that Nintendo has no control over, but that didn’t spring up in the past few weeks. It’s been going on for months and it’s disappointing that the production of these cards wasn’t adjusted to combat a marketplace made hostile by aggressive resellers. I’m lucky to still have about 30 – 40 cards from the Happy Home Designer sets, so when I run out of customers to help in Happy Home Paradise, I can keep the fun going a little bit longer.
And I do intend to keep the fun going for as long as I can because I truly enjoy what it is I’m doing as an employee of Paradise Planning. As I said above, there is nothing I like more in Animal Crossing than fidgeting around my house and changing the layout on a whim. That’s all you’re going to do in Happy Home Paradise, and for me, that’s more than enough to keep me logging in every single day.
[This review is based on a retail build of the DLC purchased by the reviewer.]