Happy Birthday, life!
In a crowded year full of fighting, RPG, and action games, Birthdays the Beginning is a breath of fresh air. This PS4 simulation game from Yasuhiro Wada, creator of Harvest Moon, lets you build entire worlds and shape their ecosystems. From single-celled organisms to dinosaurs and humans, Birthdays lets you experience the creation of life in a thrilling new way.
You are the chosen one
Birthdays the Beginning opens with your character reminiscing about the joys of reading and exploring new ideas. One day, this passion for knowledge leads you on a real-life forest trek when suddenly a mysterious light beckons you. It draws you into a dark cave where you meet Navi, a floating cube who says it needs your help.
From there, you’re whisked away to a barren cube-shaped world and transformed into a flying Avatar, which you can name. Navi then explains it used to have the power to create life and ecosystems, but has now lost that ability. Apparently though, you do possess that gift and now it’s your job to take over life-creation duties.
Building an ecosystem
Much like the classic god games SimLife and Populous, your job in Birthdays is to build life from scratch. To do so, you’ll need to terraform your cube world and create the right conditions to sustain living creatures. This is no easy task, but thankfully Navi’s a helpful guide who walks you through every step of the process.
Yes, that means plenty of tutorials to read through, but they’re mostly contained within the campaign’s opening hour or two. While there’s a lot to learn, the single most important concept in Birthdays is that temperature is everything. There are 292 different organisms to collect in the game, and each one can only be birthed within a specific temperature range. As examples, some lifeforms require warm, shallow water to appear, while others can only exist on colder mountaintops.
Consult your Library
To help manage your complex ecosystem, the game includes a robust Library detailing pertinent facts about all your species. This includes their birthing and adaptation temperature, the terrain they live in, their fertility, population size, and more.
Moreover, your Library also includes a genealogy tree showing you exactly how organisms are related to one another. Not only is it interesting to see how, say, T-Rex evolved from primitive amphibians, but the information is useful, too. That’s because you often need to breed specific organisms to accomplish the task at hand. For instance, you may require certain organisms as food for more evolved creatures, or to work down specific evolutionary paths.
What’s more, as you collect new organisms, the game gives you hints on how to evolve them further. These tips appear in the genealogy, and may indicate the temperature or terrain needed for the next evolutionary step. Thus the more you complete the genealogy, the more insights you’ll get into creating even more sophisticated lifeforms. It’s a fun cycle, and takes more than a dozen hours to get anywhere near close to completing the huge family tree.
Shaping the land
Your main tool for altering the cube’s terrain is your ability to raise and lower land. Raising the land creates hills and mountains, while lowering it produces seas. At first, your small-sized cube is only capable of handling a few terrain types, mostly shallow waters, seas, and hills. Soon enough though, you’ll be able to create a full ecosystem consisting of deep seas, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and more.
Terraforming your cube also has a major impact on the all-important air temperature of your ecosystem. Raising the land will cool down the entire air temperature of your cube, while lowering land increases it. This dramatically changes the types of creatures your ecosystem can support, so shaping your land takes careful consideration.
What’s really neat is much like Earth’s history, the air temperature needs to be raised/lowered during critical evolution periods. For example, while I maintained temperatures around 30°C for the first few hours, to create dinosaurs I needed to raise this to 40°C. To accomplish that, I dug deep seas into my cube until bit by bit the temperature climbed to where I needed it. Watching your entire ecosystem evolve as air temperatures fluctuate is pretty exciting, especially when you witness all-new organisms being born.
Birthdays offers multiple different ways to view your cube, each giving you a different vantage point on the life therein. Firstly, there’s “Micro Mode” where you can terraform, pick up items, and capture organisms for your Library. In this mode you’ll fly around slightly above your cube, giving you a nice bird’s eye view of the ecosystem.
Next, there’s “Macro Mode” (pictured above) and here you’ll get a zoomed out diorama view of your cube. It’s also happens to be the only place where you can progress time within your world. Essentially, the rhythm is edit your world in Micro Mode, then fast-forward time and witness the results within Macro Mode. It’s an easy-to-use system, however, I do wish you were able to progress time in the up-close Micro Mode. That way you’d be able to have a front row seat for viewing all the cool evolutions. Alas, it’s not the case.
The final mode in Birthdays is my personal favourite: View Mode. This lets you zoom-in and get a much closer look at your world’s many lifeforms. You can travel into the deep seas to view the aquatic life, roam the plains and watch dinosaurs milling about, or fly to the mountaintops to see what’s up there.
What makes this mode so fun is just how well-designed the organisms are. They were designed by popular Japanese clay sculptors Ochappi and Orippi, who specialize in cute, 3D characters. I love how colourful and cheerful the creatures are (yes, even T-Rex), as this vibrancy brings the game to life.
Dino Challenge & Free Play
On top of the 12+ hour story mode, Birthdays also features Dino Challenges and a Free Play mode. The former gives you pre-set land layouts and tasks you birthing specific dinosaurs within a set time limit. Once you complete the scenario, the game will record your clear time letting you reply and attempt to beat it.
On the other hand, Free Play lets you play at your leisure to create your own dream worlds. You begin by choosing a world size—ranging from mini all the way to huge—and from there anything goes. Alternatively, you can opt to import your world from the campaign and continue building it any way you choose.
Both of these mode are fun to play, and extends the life of the game well beyond the main campaign. I particularly enjoyed Free Play since it allows you to be as creative as you want without any pressures whatsoever.
Birthdays the Beginning is a simulation game oozing with charm. It’s immensely fun designing your own ecosystems from scratch and watching life begin and blossom within them. There’s a lot to learn, but your helpful advice-giver Navi does a great job at teaching you the ropes.
The main campaign took more than a dozen hours to complete, and it was fun and educational at the same time. Afterwards, the Dino Challenges and Free Play modes kept me coming back for more. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good world-building game release, and I’m happy to say Birthdays is among the best.
+ Beautiful plant and animal designs
+ Charming presentation
+ Building worlds is satisfying and fun
+ Huge number of organisms to collect
+ Genealogy tree is useful and educational
– Can only progress time in Macro Mode
– Too much focus on observation—cannot interact with creatures
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5