Title: Happy Birthdays
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software America/Arc System Works (Japan)
Release Date: June 5th, 2018 (NA)
Review copy provided by Nippon Ichi Software America
This is a game that was created by Yasuhiro Wada, the very same man who created Havrest Moon (well technically Bokujō Monogatari, as its current English name is now Story of Seasons). This started out on PS4 and Steam under the name Birthdays the Beginning.
This is what some might call a “god simulator” or a “god game”, because your job is creating and nurturing many forms of life, from plankton to mighty dinosaurs and other animals. You also control the passage of time, form the world you’re given, etc. It’s a very big job, but how does it fare? Let’s find out!
The screen you see when starting a new game, asking you to choose a cube world
Happy Birthdays is about creating and nurturing life as already mentioned. You begin by choosing one of four cubes, which will become your world to take care of. Three are pre-built worlds with one being a default blank slate. One of the preset ones called Green Plains is a grassy themed one with many creatures, plants and trees, etc already thriving. But I’d personally recommend the blank one called Stony Prairie as you begin at square one (ahem) and you have to learn how everything works properly. The others seem more designed for veteran players.
Once you begin, you’re introduced to your alien friend named Navi, who acts as your guide. This fellow teaches you the basics, most crucial being the terra-forming system where you raise and lower cubes of land to form mountains and pits becoming seas. You raise the land by tapping R and lowering it by pressing ZR. One important bit here is your health, which isn’t so much about damage but more like a limit of how much land you can form. Each cube raised or lowered takes one hit point away. But don’t worry, you don’t die if it runs out. I’ll elaborate in a bit.
The macro mode, with Navi on the left side
Now the important thing about the whole life-creation system is getting certain things in the environment just right, squarely (ahem) the temperature. See, the higher a mountain is, the hotter it gets, and the lower the sea level is, the colder the water below is. The first creature you bring into the world is a form of plankton by making the water a specific depth. Cubes can be certain layers, particularly in the water, such as a few squares deep being the shallows, lower is sea, and then the lowest is deep sea, and the lower it gets again, the colder it gets.
Once you have your plankton, you need to fulfill other certain conditions, while maintaining the needed population of plankton to give birth to a higher level form, and so on and so forth. If you press the right stick, your friend tells you the current life form you need to bring to life and how to do so.
Micro mode, where you spend your time forming the world
Another key aspect is the macro mode. The whole time I’ve been describing the micro mode. The macro mode has you appearing outside the cube world, and here is where the magic happens. See, you’re given options on how fast you wish to jump forward in time in years. You tap R and you go at a decent pace, and while doing so, you recover health. You can then tap the ZR button to make time go super fast but this takes away health. Your goal here is to fulfill the aforementioned conditions, and if all checks out, a new life form will be born when enough time passes. However this will also change the quantity of a life form’s population, and the temperature changes bit by bit here as well, and if the conditions change, one life form’s population may decrease and then eventually become extinct. But don’t worry, restoring the life form’s conditions will bring it back soon enough.
Another thing to mention is the abilities you can use. These include raising and lowering the terrain in large chunks for easy mountain creation. These actions require stars, which appear every so often when time passes and you can simply collect them by hovering your cursor over them. Each give you a few hundred to a few thousand at a time. Speaking of the cursor, you can press left or right on the d-pad to enlarge it to be 9, or later 15 squares wide. This makes raising and lowering the terrain much easier. You upgrade this by leveling up. You do this by capturing new creatures that pop up by tapping A when hovering over a new creature. It then gets collected into your database, and then you gain experience and lots of stars. When you level up, you also gain more health to do more actions before having to move time forward.
View mode, activated by clicking the left stick to enter a first-person viewpoint
Now this may seem super complex, and to tell the truth, it is. Some of the conditions feel difficult to obtain, such as getting the water at a temperature that’s out of reach. It also doesn’t help that all creatures are named in their Latin scientific names, so that makes it a bit difficult to memorize and track unless you’re used to such names. Also there’s no interaction with the life forms at all. Frankly it’s a literal aquarium when you think about it. Yeah you maintain the tank, you clean it, make sure your fish don’t die, but all you ever do is just stare at the fish. It’s kind of the same here. There are other things you can do, such as the challenge mode which you can find on the main menu where you’re given pre-made cubes with a specific goal for each.
Presentation-wise it’s decent. The visuals seem at first glance to be maybe 720p docked running at 30fps. Model-wise I always theorized that the game once upon a time started out as a 3DS game before being moved to the PS4. Animals have a bit of a low-poly look to them (way less than what a current gen game would be, that’s for sure), and textures aren’t particularly high-res either. And this isn’t just on Switch. Just seeing screenshots of the PS4 version shows this as well. Music-wise there’s not much to it at all, hell the sound effects of Navi moving about when you move your cursor actually got annoying and made me lower the sound effects audio.
Challenge mode, accessed from the main menu
All-in-all it has a cute exterior but honestly it’s FAR more complex than you’d ever expect and frankly it feels more like work than anything legit fun at times, especially if you get stuck. However I’ve never played these kind of games before (aside from Viva Pinata which feels different) so maybe this will be someone else’s cup of tea. What I personally recommend is trying it out the demo that’s on the eShop, and also watch some walk-throughs for refreshers. Really there’s potential here and I definitely believe it will be a very rewarding experience if you want to put in the work to make a really cool world full of life forms and seeing how they end up. But it wasn’t for me personally.
+ It looks decent. But not great.
+ Animal designs are cute.
+ You obviously have a large influence on the world and all that inhabit it. Literally the fate of the world is in the palm of your hands here.
+ Creative types might be able to make some legit amazing things here.
+ The complexity will impress or it may repel folks. Depends on the person.
+ Has screenshot and video capture support.
– Again, the complexity will make or break it for folks. I was more against it.
– It’s a fancy aquarium, you don’t interact with the life forms really at all, you just stare at them.
– Sound effects can get annoying, particular the “alien”, “spacey” sound Navi makes when moving. Thankfully audio options exist.
– Load-times are long but only occur when loading the game and loading a world. You’re free of loading screens from then on once in a world.
– Really easy to get stuck I found. Watching walk-throughs are highly recommended.