Birthdays the Beginning on PS4
I’ve said before, and will certainly say again, that I am a minimalist at heart. It’s not a style that can always work in games, or in all types of games, but Birthdays the Beginnings certainly argues that it absolutely can. A stripped-down take on world-simulation combined with sandbox-style “god game,” Birthdays is a delightfully simple game to play despite some complex underlying systems. Add in a light tone and cartoonishly cute aesthetic, and you’re starting to get the idea.
Birthdays opens with a bit of exposition, though the story that plays out between the game’s levels is generally unimportant to gameplay. The game throws you mostly into play right out of the gate, but with some assistance from a creature called Navi to teach you the relatively simple controls. Most of your time, especially early on, is spent in Micro mode. In this mode, you’re ground-level on the upward-facing side of the cube world you’ll be learning to shape and develop.
The most important part of Birthdays’ Micro mode is your ability to raise and lower terrain. In fact, at first, this is all you’ll be able to do. Raising the dirt can create mountains, and generally lowers the air temperature nearby. Lowering will create oceans, which you can coax into wide open shallows or deep-flung trenches stretching towards the world’s other side. Shaping the terrain and controlling the temperature of your world are the most important factors to creating and developing life, with the eventual goal being the emergence of humans.
The rest of your time in Birthdays is spent in Macro mode, a zoomed-out view that lets you watch time unfold. You can regain HP, used when raising or lowering terrain, by moving at “normal” speed, or zip things along at a quicker pace for a small HP cost. Often, you’ll be switching between these for brief spurts, letting the world you’ve shaped grow into something new. Early on, you’ll start to see small plants and tiny organisms spring up in the oceans you’ve created.
Once life begins to show, Birthdays really hits its stride. It becomes a great blend of hands-on experimentation, shifting the world around and using items to create rivers, change the temperature of your entire world, or even cause spontaneous mutations or evolutions in your existing life forms. Each new plant or animal that springs up can be “captured” to your library, earning XP that will level your character up for increased HP and larger area-of-effect on your earth-shaping powers.
If there’s an area that Birthdays seemed to struggle, it was the controls. The interface wasn’t entirely intuitive, but generally serviceable. One of the game’s more useful features, though, certainly has a learning curve. Within Micro mode, players can switch to a first-person view. While in this view, the mini-map will stop highlighting all life, instead only guiding players to things not yet added to the library. However, navigating this proves difficult, particularly since the X-axis is inverted — and can only be inverted by enabling the option as a blanket choice not specific to this mode.
Despite the sometimes clumsy controls, though, Birthdays is still an incredibly easy-to-play game that serves as a great go-to for a quick bit of gaming. My entire family was intensely interested, and it became something that we got to explore together. The relaxed, minimalist gameplay style blends beautifully with the complex systems of the life that populates; every choice you make impacts what will thrive, what will die, and what new things you’ll discover. Birthdays the Beginning is available May 9 for PlayStation 4 and on Steam.