Birthdays the Beginning has all of the makings for something incredible. On paper, it’s perfectly fit to my tastes. There’s world building, cute creatures, a time management system, and a sim aspect. There’s also parts about it that I can see coming from Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of Harvest Moon. Then there are some things more reminiscent of a recent favorite, Dragon Quest Builders. When I started Birthdays, I was an ecstatic kid getting my hands on something I had hoped would be as precious to me as Harvest Moon. However when I actually got into the game, I realized Birthdays had shown me everything it had to offer within an hour.
Perhaps that’s a little unfair to some extent, as there are quite a few different creatures I spent hours trying to evolve. But, unlike the novelty of discovering something new in Dragon Quest Builders, the work was not worth the payoff. That’s where Birthdays suffers, the monotonous gameplay feels like it’s without a purpose even though it keeps insisting it has one. Unlike simulation games I’ve enjoyed before it, the work in Birthdays just feels unrewarding.
Birthdays introduces itself with a tiny bit of exposition. There’s never a lot to it, but it’s a cute tie that tries to string it all together and give it some purpose (though it doesn’t really accomplish that). It’s a shame, as Birthdays has ideas like this that just feel wasted.
As the game begins, your little red space helper, Navi, explains birthdays and how you’ll experience them. A birthday is really just what it implies. You’re hitting a milestone, the birth of something new. You’ll experience it over and over, and after a couple I was done looking forward to them.
There are some birthdays I was excited for, like my first Inklings Of Life and Tyrannosaurus. But the novelty quickly wears off and birthdays aren’t so special. While there are challenges, birthdays are what you’re working for and the crux of the game.
There’s not a lot of actual building involved either, and that’s a bit disappointing. Players only shape squares of terrain by level, that’s really it. I can make a mountain in this corner, and sink this other area into a sea. Perhaps a little more freedom into creating a world that feels more uniquely mine would have done the trick, but birthdays is a bare bones virtual terrarium and the only thing that varied between maps was the size.
Simple things like selecting a dinosaur or a plant so I could capture them became a chore. In all of the time I spent with the game, I still never really felt comfortable with the controls. I’m hopeful that a controller would help with the accuracy problems, like being unable to select the exact block I’m trying to grab. However, it wouldn’t improve upon cumbersome design choices like dealing with the items menu and trying to swap between world views.
The rewards from the game don’t make the fight with the controls always worth it. In Birthdays, there’s a micro and macro mode to swap between. The difficult controls are encountered in micro mode, where all of the world building is done. Macro mode is actually setting the world that’s created into motion.
That’s it. Macro mode is just choosing between “start time” and “fast forward.” Think Sim Theme Park, or anything in that vein, but much less exciting. There’s a marquee along the bottom that was just a feed of what animals I had driven into extinction and how I’m not nurturing enough to keep algae alive.
Perhaps Birthdays would be far more enjoyable if the game felt like it played by the rules it established. There’s a shell of a game there that’s great, and if it were less of a hassle to navigate through I would have enjoyed my time with birthdays more. Yet the game’s reliance upon the random and unknown variables is too strong. While I do feel I saw most of the creatures in Birthdays as I sped through time, I honestly don’t know how I did it.
Challenge mode and the main story both felt like a bust, but I did find some comforts in free mode. If the game’s rewards for working towards boring and uninteresting goals were worth it, I would be less sour about my experience. But they aren’t, so strip all of that away and give me a bare-bones version of it. With a more interesting world builder, the free mode formula would be more up my alley. I much prefer the careless approach I took there as opposed to Navi constantly reminding me I needed 200,000 more of a specific creature for my world to flourish.
Birthdays is particularly disappointing in that I really enjoyed the concepts and ideas it brought into the game, but the poor execution does it an injustice. It feels over within an hour of play, but with the various modes and challenges it drags on and on. Birthdays the Beginning is an idea I don’t want Wada to give up on, but until the formula has time to be polished and expanded upon, I would rather sit out on any further celebrations.
Versions tested: PC