If you've ever wanted to experience the wonders of evolution in an adorable cubic world then here's a game for you.
Happy Birthdays (which originally released as Birthdays the Beginning last year) is a god game where you watch a small cubic planet grow and assist in its evolution. You do so primarily by raising and lowering the terrain. This has many effects on the ecosystem but mainly, it raises the temperature when you lower the terrain and vice versa. Another effect is that land close to water can support vegetation easier. As the years go on, your little planet will adapt and grow depending on the conditions that you provided your species to either flourish or become extinct within. Even if you don't do anything, life will still go on but perhaps not in the way that you desired. To help with this, you can use a variety of skills to give certain species a boost and assist with making the land more inhabitable. Overall, it's relaxing stuff and it's enjoyable to watch your ecosystems flourish over time.
The visuals in Happy Birthdays are nothing short of adorable. Each species comes to life with super-cute models and animations. Heck, even the alligators and hyenas are charming. Going from fish to dinosaurs all the way to cavemen and modern humans is an absolute joy, especially when little huts, houses, and castles pop up throughout the land. Even the way streams and waterfalls flow across the landscape looks lovely. One thing that I think is handled beautifully is the adaptive music. Depending what you're looking at, the gentle and subtle soundtrack changes which is just awesome. In the end, Happy Birthdays looks and sounds fantastic.
Happy Birthdays is played within 2 basic views: macro mode and micro mode. The former has you observe your planet from afar where you can fast-forward time and gain HP (which is used to alter terrain and such). The latter allows you to fly over the land, change the elevation of terrain, use skills, and capture new life forms. Speaking of which, as you play, you'll unlock entries in your library that form a massive tree. Unlocking every single life form will take a lengthy period of time, especially considering how many secret and rare beings there are. Who knows, you might even come across a dragon! There are also unlockable monuments that act as achievements and a list of challenges to complete where you have to create certain dinosaurs under strict conditions. The main game even features 4 distinct worlds: Green Plains, Scorched Earth, Stony Prairie, and Frozen World and you can casually enjoy your time in a Free Mode, too.
Although all of this content is great, Happy Birthdays requires a lot of patience in order to learn its ins and outs. This is because there is very little explanation for how to actually accomplish many of the core tasks. For gamers who don't like figuring stuff out on their own, this lack of guidance can certainly be a source of frustration. Unfortunately, the controls and camera can be irritating to deal with as well. Having to hold certain buttons just to navigate some of the menus is very unintuitive and you'll also find that rotating the camera frequently gets it snagged within high terrain. That leads me to my final complaint: the terrain can be rather tedious to alter. There are a few skills that can help with this but I wish that the terrain automatically adapted as you formed it. For example, if you keep raising one square then I wish that the terrain would tent up around it but instead, it just forms a giant useless column.
If you're looking for a relaxing and cute experience where you can watch a world evolve in front of you then Happy Birthdays is definitely a game to add to your want list. Just make sure that you're ready to deal with its frustrating aspects before giving it a go.
- + Relaxing simulation gameplay that makes it rewarding to watch your world evolve
- + Super-cute visuals and adaptive music
- + Lots of challenges and secrets
- - Progression requires too much experimentation due to lack of guidance
- - Some camera / control issues
- - Altering terrain could be more intuitive