Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a creative soul. From drawing crude pictures of X-Wings and my favourite Nintendo characters, to creating obscure comics that mostly reflected whatever TV anime I was into at the time. That passion has stayed with me, even as my creative ability remained of questionable quality, propelling me to continue writing and drawing; trying to hold the machinations of whole universes in my mind.
I think this is what excites me about the future of “creative games,” games like Minecraft, and Super Mario Maker. As a kid, video games did a lot to nurture my creativity but there weren’t a whole lot of them that helped you express it, at least not in the mainstream. Even the most notable game of the kind: Mario Paint, I missed out on. It warms my heart now to see games providing kids with outlets not only to express their creativity, but even teaching them simple and complex concepts without being homework. Birthdays: The Beginnings is one such game.
I wasn’t completely sure what to expect with Birthdays: The Beginnings. Seeing Yasuhiro Wada attached to the project, I knew I could expect something in the vein of Harvest Moon, a garden/farming sim where you build a little land and tend to the dinosaurs running around in it. What it ended up being thoroughly warmed my heart. At its core, Birthdays: The Beginnings is a game about evolution. In a lot of ways, it feels like the game Spore wanted to be, although never fully realized. Players take on the role of an alien looking avatar assisted by a small, glowing, blue cube named Navi (honestly how that got past Nintendo, I’ll never know). Throughout the game’s story mode, players will be given cube-worlds of varying sizes: small, medium, large and huge; with which they can shape to their desire.
Building a world involves two modes: Micro and Macro. While in Micro mode, the player avatar can fly around the world, shaping it in their image. The controls for this are fairly limited and simplistic, as players can only raise and lower terrain. However, raising and lowering is not an infinite ability as it might be in games like Sim City, and drains energy from the player’s health bar. Once it’s depleted, players must go into Macro mode, advancing time to refill their health. This may seem tedious at first, however it becomes necessary as Birthdays main goal becomes clear.
As players build their worlds, they set the conditions for life to unfold, and as the time passes in Macro mode, their worlds become populated. While I said the building mechanics were simplistic, there’s actually quite a bit of complexity to crafting the world. Raising terrain will lower the world’s temperature, while lowering terrain will raise it as well as create oceans. This plays into a number of factors like the ground temperature, sea temperature, and land moisture, all of which need to be manipulated and sustained to create life. As each new character has its “birthday,” (yes, that’s where the name comes from and it makes sense in the most adorable way) players can catalog their new species in order to level up which rewards them with larger radiuses to raise and lower ground (it becomes incredibly useful, trust me), as well as more energy, to stay in Micro mode longer.
Then further factors need to be put into for creatures to evolve from single-celled organisms all the way up to homosapians. And this is where I enjoy Birthdays: The Beginnings the most. It’s adorable aesthetic and accessible gameplay make it perfect for children, and the fact that it manages to provide a basic lesson in evolution is so impressive; simplistically explaining ideas like the Food Chain, and Survival of the Fittest while making it intrinsic to the game design.
While I did enjoy my time with Birthdays, it does have some major flaws. For one, there is a serious lack of music. It has some subtle ambience, but I couldn’t help but think of Super Mario Maker that provides excellent parsed versions of each level’s theme that really gets you in the mood to build. Even Minecraft has some relaxing piano tunes that put you in the right mindset for the atmosphere.
The second and most damning flaw is how hollow the game ends up being. Like exploring No Man’s Sky, I do love the quiet zen of Birthdays; building a world, making it my own and watching life spring up within it. But once that happens, there’s really nothing else you can do. You don’t interact with the life in Micro Mode, you don’t watch humans run from Tyrannosaurus Rex; they’re just little decorations on your diorama. Without any deeper gameplay, Birthdays: The Beginning does run the risk of getting very old, very fast and that’s a shame because there really is a lot of creative potential to this game.
Birthdays: The Beginnings is a quiet and relaxing experience. It’s the kind of chill game that can give you the satisfaction of building a world and watching it grow and sometimes that’s all a game needs to be.