There’s something good to be said about creating something from nothing in video games. Although, most of the time, simulation games require some knowledge of the the inner workings of the game’s systems; a fact that could come off as intimidating to players new to the series or genre. To be honest, these systems are usually what ends up turning me off about the simulation genre as a whole, not mentioning the time investment needed to see your creation turn into something magnificent.
Birthdays the Beginning stood out to me as a game that took the simulation genre and presented something new and interesting. Although I must admit at a glance this game looks incredibly dense, I was glad to discover that my time with Birthdays the Beginning provided one of my most relaxing game experiences that I’ve had in a long time. However, that doesn’t mean this game doesn’t have a few speed bumps along the way.
Birthdays the Beginning begins with the player searching through their Grandpa’s old books. After opening a certain book, the player discovers a map marked with an X. Out of curiosity, the player follows the map to a very strange place, not of this world.
Here’s where we get introduced to a mysterious flying entity named Navi, who will act as your guide for the duration of the game. Navi shows you to a cube, half filled with land, and asks for your help to create life. To tell the truth, Navi didn’t really give me much of choice — it was either help him out or not go home and be stuck in this strange place forever.
In Birthdays the Beginning, gameplay is made relatively simple. All that’s required of the player is to raise or lower land, but the result of doing the smallest alterations can have an enormous impact on your ecosystem. In the tutorial, Navi will walk players through the systems of how to change the temperature of the land (by raising and lowering it) as well as how to create a water source for new life to grow.
Here’s the thing, and this might sound incredibly petty, but living in North America has made me incredibly reliant on using Fahrenheit. However, the game (and the rest of the civilized world) uses Celsius and that took some getting used to. I understand that Celsius is the more popular unit of temperature around the world but, for a game that relies heavily upon the temperature of the land, I would have hoped for an option to choose between the two. However, in the end, this old dog can learn new tricks because I got the hang of it.
So returning to gameplay, there are two modes, macro and micro: Micro mode is where players will be able to alter land as well as preview the temperature changes that will occur after changes are made. Thankfully, all the information that you need to know about your cube is conveniently displayed in the various menus around the HUD screen.
The biggest downside to this: the HUD can be extremely confusing and requires some time testing to fully understand how it works. On the other hand, Macro mode pulls the character back and displays the world you’ve created. This is where you’ll be able to speed up time and observe the creation of life.
Creating life isnt as difficult as it sounds in Birthdays the Beginning. However, Navi can end up making things difficult by asking more of you during episodes. Each episode has certain goals that need to be completed in order to progress; at the end of the episode you are graded on your actions.
There are also sub-goals that require you to not use a certain item or collect a number of organisms, but are completely optional. That said, if Navi asks for you to make a number of any given organism and your ecosystem isn’t made to sustain that life, large alterations will need to be in order to complete the episode.
During my playthrough, these requests weren’t always difficult because I generally found myself being on the right track to meeting the goal. However, if I messed something up too bad, it set me back hours. It was extremely disheartening watching an organism that I needed 300,000 of decrease towards extinction and me not acting fast enough to save it.
One of Birthdays the Beginning’s biggest strengths is the music. I found the sound in the game to be incredibly soothing, even when I was frustrated that I couldn’t get a particular organism to grow. During Micro Mode, each alteration is followed by a unique chime that adds a level of charm to this game that you wouldn’t have guessed would make the game so much more enjoyable.
Birthdays the Beginning is best played at a slow pace, with the player getting the most out of the game by taking their time. When I started my first playthrough, I tried to rush through the campaign and ended up missing out on all the qualities this game has to offer.
So, I decided to start a new game and put time into planning out my ecosystem to get the most out of my land. After doing so, I had an entertaining time going through the previous episodes again, while taking a moment to complete the sub goals for a better score.
As Birthdays the Beginning’s story progresses, so does your cube’s size and the game’s difficulty. This is where the game shines because the bigger ecosystems truly have a beauty about them that deserves to be recognized. The cartoonish and playful graphics compliment this beauty further by making something look amazing, even if it’s created by someone like me, who doesn’t have any design skills. For players who want even more difficulty there are challenges that can be accepted where the game asks for a certain organism within a set time period.
Birthdays the Beginning begs to be enjoyed by a particular gamer, which could hold it back from non-simulation fans to give it a try. I would have enjoyed more interaction between me and my organisms, but the game draws the line of interaction with the world to merely altering the land. With that said, the systems introduced in the game work well for a game that is supposed to the “beginning” of a much larger idea. I’m excited to see where the series goes moving forward as well as the incredible environments that are sure to come from the community.