Let’s be honest here. Birthdays The Beginning is a horrible name for a game. Of course, Harvest Moon (now Story of Seasons) may be a recognisable title nowadays, it was equally as bad of a name choice back in the day so who knows; maybe Birthdays will grow on me. Despite the curious name choice, Birthdays is an addictive sand box title that will have you glued to your deliriously cute ecosystem for hours on end.
Developer: Toybox Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: May 31st, 2017
Birthdays is the latest offering from Yasuhiro Wada, game designer behind a large portion of the early Harvest Moon titles. Birthdays is a departure from the simple farming life, expanding into a cosmic sand box adventure where you have the power to create and extinguish life as a result of your actions.
You play as a red suit spaceman who bears similar design aesthetics to Jibanyan from Yo-Kai Watch. With the aide of Navi, you’re given the power to terraform the surrounding terrain, breeding life in the process. There’s an introductory tutorial at first, highlighting your abilities before you’re left to your own devices. There isn’t too much hand holding past this as you to discover things on your own through trial and error. This isn’t all that bad really since evolution moves at such a slow pace, you have time to take everything in and learn as you go.
Things start off basic at first, where you can raise and lower a single cube of terrain at a time. By doing so, the terrain cools and warms which in turn spawns new life. As you level up, you’re given the ability to command three-by-three blocks and greater sizes, which feels very reminiscent of Minecraft in many ways. If anything, Birthdays feels like a blend of Minecraft and Spore, taking the best of the two gaming genres to deliver one almighty fun romp as a godlike entity with supernatural powers.
You feel like Mother Nature seeing new creatures spring to life for the first time and it is deeply satisfying.
Elevating terrain creates mountains which in turn results in icy peaks, while drilling down into the pixelated soil creates oceans. At least that how things work in basic terms. Different climates and different sections can be created with a little know-how. You feel like Mother Nature seeing new creatures spring to life for the first time and it is deeply satisfying. However, things don’t always go to plan as depending on the environment you’ve created, an organism may struggle to survive and before long, life is extinguished before it’s even began.
I guess you could say that is part of the fun as you play mad scientist. You create a terrain to how you see fit, zoom out to worldwide view, accelerate time to see what springs to life where you can document new species in your log before doing it all again. That may sound repetitive to some but the possibility and the unknown kept me coming back again and again.
As cute as Birthdays is, the game is deceptive harder than it first appears. Some of the choices you make can have repercussions down the line that was not immediately obvious when you make them. I found myself having to boot up an old save file and even starting afresh as some decisions can impact you to the point of being too deep and too far gone to continue.
With 292 species to discover, Birthdays will keep the completionists engrossed for hours on end.
You could always attempt to terraform the environment to correct changes but the controls can be a bit too fiddly, and the thought of having to zoom in and out to fix things after such a heavy investment was enough to make me throw in the towel and hit reset. I didn’t mind all that much though as the insight and discoveries I’d made meant I was better equipped to handle my great powers and great responsibility.
The gradual difficulty curve that opens up as you progress kept Birthdays challenging as you attempt to stave off extinction. New items and new species become available as evolution springs into bloom. Beyond the basic requirements of geographical needs, the challenge of keeping your world alive and kicking as it grows bigger and bigger can be stressful, but no one said this was going to be easy. With 292 species to discover, Birthdays will keep the completionists engrossed for hours on end.
There are items available to help you with the evolution process and even mutation, as well as means if resurrecting species that have become extinct. I’m unsure if this was intentional or not but there were some occasions where terraforming a patch would return a species back to life when the climate was just right. Whatever the case is, it felt like a grand discovery, like finding out the Tasmanian tiger isn’t actually extinct at all.
I kind of wish Birthdays graphics used a Play-Doh like appearance, more in-line with the promotional artwork.
I kind of wish Birthdays graphics used a Play-Doh like appearance, more in-line with the promotional artwork. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the graphics, it just isn’t anything that amazing compared with other simulation titles. Seems like a bit of a waste to create such beautiful works of art and not incorporate it into the game design. I mean, just look at this!
Such a shame there isn’t more of this kind of plasticine artwork, but I digress. There’s also very little interaction, or rather none at all between the different creatures that inhabit Birthdays. They tend to roam aimlessly around and not do anything else, kind of like watching fish in a fish tank.
Outside of the campaign mode, there are a few different modes available. There are challenge missions to test you, each with their own specific rules and requirements, as well as a free-play mode where you can import your save file and play in an ecosystem of your size and choosing.
Birthdays The Beginning is a charming title that is a joy to play and just as pleasing to watch. There are moments that will wow you when you figure out something on your own, and then there are the times where you wish Birthdays would do just that little bit more with what it already has. Birthdays could be the start of something truly magnificent if given the opportunity to grow.