Being new to the Switch, I am always on the hunt for decent games to fill my library. I must admit that I was skeptical when I was first offered Happy Birthdays. Its cartoony graphic style gave me the opinion of a ‘cute but no substance’ kind of game.
I was wrong.
Happy Birthdays is a curious mix of a multitude of different ideas and genres. Under the cutesy cartoon graphic stylings you will find environmental sim action, ecosystem management, evolution instigation and landscape sculpting and shaping. I think Happy Birthdays is best described as a ‘Sandbox’ or ‘God sim’ title.
Happy Birthdays is the Nintendo Switch port of a title called Birthdays the Beginning - a PS4 and PC title released in 2017. It is the creation of industry veteran, Yasuhiro Wata, creator of the popular sim series, Harvest Moon. This Switch version of the game promises several refinements and quality of life changes for players of the original game. Having not played Birthdays the Beginning, I am unable to pass comment on these refinements personally.
After an informative tutorial where the games many features and systems are explained in a remarkably simple and jargon free way, you are given control of a cube shaped world. It is up to you to influence growth in the world and the creatures that inhabit it. There are a multitude of factors that affect what plant or biological life is going to evolve on your cube, and this is where this otherwise simple looking game has depth.
Everything you do affects what lives and evolves, which creatures become extinct and what becomes stronger and more prevalent in the world. You do this by physically shaping the world to meet certain criteria. By shaping the landscape of the world, you alter the ecosystem in some way. For example, the higher you build your cube, the lower the temperature is overall in the world, which in turn means that plant and animal life which require higher temperatures will not thrive on this world. However, cold blooded animals are more likely to increase in number and evolve opening up a new set of conditions needed to continue that species.
Happy Birthdays is not a fast paced game, you won't see the fruits of your labour right away - which may frustrate some gamers who are not accustomed to the sim-like experience these kinds of games have to offer. But for those who are fans of the god sim genre, you will gain a lot of satisfaction by making subtle tweaks and changes to the world then hitting the in-game fast forward time mechanism and seeing what effect these interactions have on the ecosystem as a whole. It is entirely possible to cause a world ending catastrophic event through your actions, meaning you have to take care what you change and keep in mind how these changes may affect the life you already have ongoing.
As well as the pace of the game some users may find is not to their usual experience, the controls and systems you learn within the tutorial can be a little frustrating to get used to. I was frequently hitting the wrong buttons and struggling to understand what skills I needed to use at times, but once you play for a little while it becomes very easy to play. Stick with it and you will get it in no time.
On first playing the game, it offers you a number of pre set scenarios in which the ecosystem is already established to a certain degree. These are great for beginners to learn the controls and systems of the game along with the basic premise and overall goal. These pre set scenarios give you a timeline of events to follow making them a good choice for the goal oriented player who likes a little bit of direction in their gaming experience, but fear not: for those who like to start from scratch and create your own world with no direction, you are catered to also.
In the sandbox mode, you are able to choose your landscape and go nuts. Build the world however you like, shape the terrain the way you see fit and evolve whatever you want to with the only goal being to avoid a catastrophic life ending event. This mode is great fun, as it's your opportunity to build your ideal ecosystem without being told how to do it to fulfil a certain criteria and it is, in my opinion, the best way to play this game.
Happy Birthdays is a great addition to the Nintendo Switch lineup and is easily playable both on the big screen and on the systems unique portable screen mode. Personal preference saw me playing on the big screen more as I liked seeing the animations for the unique creatures and ecosystems in more depth but the game is very much playable as a handheld too.
In summary, if you enjoy the god sim/sandbox genres you will be in for a treat with this title. Graphically, the game is adorable with some really lovely character models and landscapes but this game is so much more than cute dinosaurs and sweet looking lizards! Underneath it all is a surprisingly fun and addictive game with a huge amount of depth and replayability. A must have game for fans of the genre.
Birthdays the Beginning (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
If you enjoy the god sim/sandbox genres you will be in for a treat with this title. Graphically, the game is adorable with some really lovely character models and landscapes but this game is so much more than cute dinosaurs and sweet looking lizards! Underneath it all is a surprisingly fun and addictive game with a huge amount of depth and replayability. A must have game for fans of the genre.