May 30, 2018

Happy Birthdays - Review

When I first learnt about Birthdays the Beginning I was intrigued, when it was announced as coming to Switch as Happy Birthdays, I decided now was my time to try it out.

You take on the role of you, a faceless and nameless version of yourself, who followed a strange light and was brought into somewhere. Before you stands a large cube, filled with a mix of land and water and then you are introduced to Navi, the guide for your adventure. That is about the extent of the story, which is fine, because the game is more about creation than anything else, however the creation is not like you might expect.

Creation is done by you managing the world, at no point do you get to create any life yourself, but it creates on its own, based upon how you maintain the cube. As you start, you will need a lot of water, as you start with sea life, but as the years pass, the organisms in the ocean will start to evolve, some of which may grow legs and need land to walk upon. Navi will be your guide as you craft the world to suit your goal, you can raise and lower terrain, which will give different results, based on just how much you adjust the land. The adjustments are not just cosmetic, as you create more land for creatures, you will lower the overall temperature of the box, which can impact what life grows.

The goal of the game is to have life evolve from the basic single cell organisms, to human life, which means many in game years of play, each year results in nothing happening, much like the real world, but as you play, more year’s pass, and things change. The strange part is that when you are modifying the world, time does not pass, in order for that to happen, you need to zoom out to what they call, the macro mode, here is where you can see the entire cube at once, as well as the statistics for how the world is progressing. Here you can see the overall temp, the moisture levels and more, including a list of the number of creatures and plants, which can change a lot, depending on how well your cube is balanced.

The amount of life that your world supports, is really based on a number of factors and if you are super dedicated to the overall goal, you will want to ensure you refer to the games internal listing of life. This menu, which can be viewed in a basic grid or as a much more complex, but informative flow chart, the chart is great, because it allows you to find the creature or life you want and see how many things ahead of it you need. Some life can’t appear, until you have gotten all of the life before it, which can be quite tricky to get, if you are trying to stick within the rules the game presents you, not the ones it runs by. Some life needs set levels of moisture, as well as temp and space, if one of these things is not right, life won’t appear, no matter how long you wait. You can use the star power that you earn, and drop in a seed of life, which can speed things along, but it is not always a guarantee.

As the years pass by, there were times when I had all the right conditions to have a tree appear, which I needed, in order to have a mouse appear, which was one of the creatures I needed to progress to humans. The problem was, the land I had, was not quite dry enough for the tree to appear, so I used a star power to dry out the world, the problem was, it dried out the world too much, which started to impact the life that needed more moisture. So, in order to fix the world, I had to fill it with, with a lot of water, to try and increase the moisture levels, which had the opposite effect of what I wanted, the temperature of the world increased a lot, which still caused dreadful things. My attempt at correcting the world, caused just as many problems, which gave me a solid lesson in moving forward, the biggest issue that it gave me, was the few moments of dread, did not even out the sheer boredom that I had throughout the game.

Interacting with the world is done by moving Navi around, you can zoom around fast, but the world is not large, so its not really needed. Raising or lowering the ground is done with the right shoulder and trigger buttons, but it only raises or lowers one level at a time, you can increase the size of the space you are working on, but it still only raises solo levels. Each time you do either action, you will hear a chime noise, which is fun the first time or two you hear it, but when you want to do some intense changes, the chime noise will get on your nerves. You can swap to a first-person view, if you wanted to get up close with the lifeforms that live in your world, but the controls are strange here, pushing the left stick forward, usually has the camera nosedive into the ground, which is a strange reaction.

What is more disturbing though, is that you will spend a vast majority of your time, just watching the world as time flies by and unless a new lifeform appears, there is little reason to head back into the micro view. The issue with watching is that if you just let time pass, it takes ages for the years to pass, but if you fast forward time, you use your HP in that process and as you progress and level up, you earn more, but you still need to manage it, as making adjustments to the world, uses that same source of HP. Letting the world move forward in normal time, refills the gauge, but it just leaves you watching and doing nothing while that happens. The problem with the game overall is, it is not so much a game as a digital terrarium, which if you are into that, will make you happy, for others, not so much.

From a presentation point of view, the game is strange, it does not render a lot of visual elements, due to the small nature of the worlds, but when you get in close, the textures are blurry and even worse, the creatures are just as poorly done. The world size, also does not allow for a lot of variety, going into the water, just gives you the basic water effect, heading up into the mountains is the same as staying at ground level, there is no difference between them. The soundtrack is nice though, it does get a little samey when you are in the macro mode, overlooking your creation, Navi however is not a nice sound, it does that Banjo-Kazooie animal speak, but it is more electronic in nature and can be irksome after a while.

Happy Birthday is a game that is not really a game, which is a shame. Yes, you can sink in a lot of time, if you wanted to reach the goal of having humans evolve and begin to build houses and such, but the investment of time, for the gameplay you are rewarded with, is not something that I can justify.

Review copy provided by NIS America

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