In a surprise announcement during October’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct, Nintendo revealed Happy Home Paradise, a paid DLC that brings a whole new component to the life sim. The DLC, which is a de facto sequel to 2015’s Happy Home Designer for the 3DS, allows players to design the interiors and exteriors of vacation homes for Animal Crossing‘s adorable world of critters. Instead of relying only on the decorations they’ve obtained themselves during the game’s relentless grind, players are presented with an ever-expanding suite of furniture, wallpaper, flooring, and house styles and told to match a theme in order to make each villager happy. I played Happy Home Designer quite a bit back in the day and I’ve spent several hours with Happy Home Paradise so far, and I’m delighted to say that this DLC is a ton of fun.

It’s the outside that counts

Besides decorating a vacation house’s interior and its exterior design, players can also choose where exactly they want to place a house. Instead of taking place on each player’s custom island, Happy Home Paradise is centered on a group of islands far away from the main game’s location. Each mini island has its own visual design and a peak season when it looks the best (though players can choose from any of the four seasons for any location). Once chosen, players can choose whether they want the weather to be rainy or sunny and what time of day they want the island to stay at permanently – the better to showcase their creative designs.

One of the most underrated parts of Animal Crossing has always been its lighting. In the original GameCube title, there was no way to look up at the sky. Without being able to see the position of the sun, the only way for players to tell what time it was – without looking at a clock – was the way the light looks over your town and its inhabitants. In my opinion, Animal Crossing predicted the “golden hour” aesthetic trend over a decade early: the evening hours during sunset showcase some really beautiful lighting. Being able to adjust the time of day and lighting for homes in Happy Home Paradise reminded me of this, particularly because the DLC gives you an overhead view of each home when you’re choosing it. Not only is it a cool upgrade from Happy Home Designer, but it’s a great way to slip some of the uniqueness and beauty of the older Animal Crossings into the series’ most recent entry.

Decorating frenzy

I’ll come right out and say it: decorating has never been my favorite part of Animal Crossing. Decking out the inside of my house is a fun side activity, but I’m not the type to transform my entire island into a hidden jungle paradise or make an outlandish, wacky design with bridges and inclines. I’ve always believed in playing Animal Crossing for just a little bit each day, with the goal of experiencing life in my town over time and watching things evolve. I’ve also never been a big fan of the grind that’s required if you want to find all the pieces of a certain furniture set, for example. That’s simply not what my experience is focused on.

Even so, I really enjoyed designing vacation homes in Happy Home Paradise. Not having to worry about whether my design wouldn’t look as good because I was missing an essential piece of furniture or the perfect wallpaper was great, and being able to experiment with seasons and weather was another boon. While the Animal Crossing experience is inextricably tied to the passage of real-life days, years, and seasons, it’s fun to see exactly what a certain combination of time, season, and weather looks like without having to wait for it at random. The villagers’ desired house themes are unique and different, and I enjoyed flexing my creative muscles to make some out-of-the-box designs. All of these are things I wouldn’t have been able to do in the base game.

Complementary visions

Alongside the DLC, New Horizons received a gigantic 2.0 update that brought a lot of old characters and new quality of life changes to the game. While I’m not very impressed by the update, it does work hand in hand with Happy Home Paradise, making things easier in both games. New decorating skills that can be used in the DLC, like accent walls, partitions, and columns, can be used in your regular house on your island. Items can be purchased in the DLC’s shop with the earnings you make from designing vacation homes; these items can then be taken back to your island and displayed however you see fit. Characters who live on your island may be inspired by your work and request a vacation home.

Instead of being a completely separate game, like Happy Home Designer was with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, New Horizons and Happy Home Paradise are linked together in more meaningful ways. It really does feel like an expansion of the main New Horizons experience; perhaps more importantly, it feels like a new activity that players can take up when they get tired of the slow pace of life on their island. Lottie’s vacation home service is always open, and there are always villagers who want new places to live. That flexibility will be meaningful to fans who can only play during certain times of day and may miss out on activities outside of those windows.

I’m glad that Happy Home Paradise has turned out to be a meaningful extension of the Animal Crossing franchise. For those who were worried about getting another Amiibo Festival, fear not: this new DLC is fun, deep, and well worth the $25 sticker price. (If you have a Nintendo Online Expansion Pack subscription, you get it for free!) It’s a great way to try out a more flexible form of Animal Crossing and give the creative side of your brain a workout. While there won’t be any more major updates for New Horizons, Happy Home Paradise is sure to keep me going for a long time yet.