Birthday: The Beginnings, a game which released in 2017 is now seeing a Nintendo Switch release by the name of Happy Birthdays which is improved and contains additional content. Created by Yasuhiro Wada, the man solely responsible for popular series such as Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons, this game from TOYBOX Inc. and Arc System Works is way more than it seems at first glance. The simple yet cute and colorful art direction makes everything a happy work space when playing the game, but Happy Birthdays is one case in video games where you should never judge it only by its cover. It’s a rewarding experience.
Happy Birthdays rings true to its name. When there is a new life it calls for making a big deal out of your new proud creation(s). Ultimately it is a charming game about evolution where the main goal is to achieve the birth of the modern day human species, as far as the main game with what little narrative is there is concerned. Essentially playing as God, you will make a cute mess in a sandbox that is a cube-shaped biome while much is placed at stake by your hand such as manipulating geography by adjusting the height of land and sea levels, altering temperatures, altering moisture levels, making & breaking countless life forms and more. One look at inside the cube and it seems simple, but the entire map – composed of grids- all affect one another and have specific attributes providing the condition of certain areas in your cube. Playing God in Happy Birthdays requires attention and maintaining your cube with care and that’s what makes it very enjoyable. The little (and sometimes big) surprises makes you feel like you’ve made something special. However, there is also a Free Mode for players who aren’t up for the main story mission.
After the stellar introduction video, players may choose a mode. Upon starting, 1 of 4 biomes (cubes) may be chosen and they all have their own difficulty and variables. They all have their own unique challenges. The first and easiest which the game recommends for beginners is the grassy plains theme. Next in order of difficulty comes the desert theme and then an arctic theme. A basic flat stone theme is also available. After a brief cut-scene giving context for transporting to your new world, you will see an avatar whom you will control for navigation, but you’re not alone. In fact, you are the side-kick for setting up the whole party. In a Zelda: Ocarina of Time fashion, you will be greeted by a small diamond (or cube depending on your perspective) by the name of Navi coincidentally. It is their world and they need your help.
Actually, the text and dialogue end sounds are very much like Zelda, too, but perhaps I’m imagining things. It definitely doesn’t become annoying. Soon, you’ll be choosing the name of your avatar and then it’s off to the heart of the game. Luckily and much needed, Navi will be there every step of the way to first teach you the basics and then be there to call upon should you need it. Even when you’re taught all that you need to know, much of it can also be puzzling to solve, which is part of the fun itself since you are left to explore what works. Science! or is it?
Learning the controls is best taught while in-game, naturally, and might cause for confusion unless experienced first-hand since inputs behave differently within menus, on-screen inventories, camera control, etc. It would be proper to give the rundown on the basics, at least. The most basics of course being left analog for player movement and right analog for camera movement. Holding L and using the right analog will adjust camera zoom. Holding ZL will allow your avatar to move speed around. Left & Right on the d-pad adjust your cursor size which is important for raising and lowering terrain by pressing R and ZR respectively.
There are tricks Navi will teach you as you become familiar with the game, such as View Mode and cleaner terrain forming. Players level up the more they accomplish and Navi will be there to tell you additional news. Pressing Y brings up a Skills menu to help your progress, provided you can pay in stars and pressing Minus opens your Library menu. Happy Birthdays is streamlined where you can bring up on-screen menus and navigate simultaneously which keeps the flow going. Pressing A captures newly discovered life forms when you hover over them. Last but not least, pressing X switches between Macro and Micro modes which I’ll go into depth now.
Consider this: time is required for evolution. Great! However, with over 200 organisms to keep track of you might just need to chill and I don’t mean global cooling, but that too is necessary. Micro mode shows your flourishes and life moves around, but time is frozen allowing you to go at your own pace and make the changes you want happen in your cube as much as your HP can handle. Yes, altering 1 tile of land or water costs 1 HP and when you make larger changes consecutively your HP drains much quicker.
Luckily you can get it all back relatively easy when you let time pass in Macro Mode. Here, players can regain their health by pressing R letting time pass (what seems slowly) fast enough for change to happen. However, when players want to see those changes happen much rapidly, pressing ZR will double the time. The only catch is it drains your HP so make sure you’re… healthy. Players can see the names of all the life forms scroll by with their population declining or rising, which are in danger and which new life forms have arose. The names of most organisms seem beyond scientific to remember on a regular basis, but probably easy to remember via picture memory.
In order for new life to emerge, the old ones must perish. It is a sad, but necessary process of evolution. As tiny as common house mice are, in your world their birth is not guaranteed and definitely requires their earliest forms for it to have a chance of existing at all. Think of it as a prototype mouse, adapting and changing to its habitat, it will be out with old and in with the new as time allows it and next thing you know Cybermouse31k Matrix is your new pet. Nope, not that far. This game has its own limits for world destruction. What’s fascinating is that each organism needs to have the proper cube conditions in order to birth. This means you’ll be needing to make adjustments to your cube in order to give said organism a chance to exist at all, but that isn’t all. Once they are birthed, their adaptation requirements, or conditions for maintaining survival, are different from their birthing requirements. This means achieving the best for that particular life may affect surrounding life in your cube and can be a juggling act.
There are various types of altering factors. Raising land enough makes your cube colder and doing the opposite will make it warmer. Likewise, adjusting sea levels has its own effect. The deeper the waters, the warmer your cube. This also effects the moisture levels in specific areas. You will always known the statistics of an area wherever your cursor is placed so you don’t need to guess. It’s just about making the proper changes needed.
Animals, both smaller prey and larger threats, may co-exist in the same area in your cube. Life forms you see in your cube basically represent that specific life form’s community. Hovering over one gives you the total population which may go over 6 digits. Living is a chain reaction. Allowing prey to be near large animals who require substantial food to survive may cause that prey to go extinct. If there’s also not enough food (animals may be fine with plants while others must have meat) the population will decline. There’s a lot to piece together in your cube and it makes for a satisfying experience making plenty happen all at once. If you happen to create a rare life form, you will get a “Happy Birthday!” which the game positively creates an ecstatic vibe making note that you achieved a miraculous milestone.
Happy Birthdays offers plenty to see. For the perfectionists out there, this game will give you much more play time than a normal episode. For starters, it’s very unlikely you will unveil all of the life forms in your first run given you’ve done all you needed to do. This makes filling out your Library by capturing them an adventure. All organisms are connected in someway as shown via graph in tree form, but a picture list is available as well.
You’ll need to capture new life in order to fill in your Library. Capturing and creating new life are a great way of earning plenty of stars. Stars are the currency used spent on skills and capturing enough life will allow you to level up. Doing so will provide more HP allowing you to make more changes in Micro mode at a time. As for skills, they make your life (or death) easier. For instance, players running low on HP can spend stars to gain HP. Skills have many uses, such as altering terrain in specific shapes and sizes in an instant, killing off a species, increase fertility, protect life forms for a certain time and much more. The more drastic skills require a hefty amount of stars, but can be useful if you’re willing to spend them.
The skills menu, new starting biomes and new creatures are exclusive to Nintendo Switch. What’s more to unlock are the additional Monuments you can place and spruce up your cube with no affect to your cubes condition. You are being granted these items while achieving certain goals. Additionally, there is also a Challenge mode where certain challenges require you to breed specific dinosaurs adding more replay value here.
Occasionally the game’s framerate will only take a small hit when there’s plenty of going on and dependent on camera view. However, I’ve never encountered stuttering and massive frame drops as the framerate has been consistent. The music is sparse, but fine. The track played in Macro mode is fitting. It feels somber and relaxing at the same time, seeing time pass while some life gets taken away and others get sparked. You will want to take in the View mode to experience the sounds of all living organisms and get the proper angles! It’s a surprising little game that’s bigger than it looks. Snow forms on higher mountain peaks you’ve created. Lava can be seen if you go low enough. And everything is all relative. Happy Birthday.