Release Date: June 5th 2018
Price as of Article: $39.99 USD, £39.99 GBP
Game code provided by NIS America for review
Happy Birthdays is a strange game, not only because of the concept, but just the name alone. Originally released on other consoles titled Birthdays the Beginning it’s been renamed to Happy Birthdays for the Nintendo Switch release. No, I don’t see the point either. Anyways, what’s in a name? It’s yet another peculiar title from the masters of solid Japanese quirkiness, NIS America. With their absolutely solid release line up, this is one that caught my eye the most just because it’s so different even by their standards.
There is a slight sliver of story in Happy Birthdays, you are an unknown child exploring the undergrowth and coming across two cubes which magically transport you to another planet that needs your help creating more life. After a brief time helping out, it’s decided that you should leave back to your home world. Upon returning, everything has changed and it seems the meddling you did in the cubes altered your world too. That means going back in and putting everything right. How to do that? By creating humans in this world.
Happy Birthdays is a biome creation simulator thingy. As a person who is completely fascinated by nature and the science behind it, it’s only natural that I was drawn to Happy Birthdays as a concept. So much so I bought it myself (although a review copy was offered). As you’re plonked onto an environment style of your choice ranging from desert land, snow and grassland, as well as a completely blank canvas for you to choose, the lives that populate the land are at your finger tips.
As you play through the very useful tutorial you’ll soon realise that the whole aspect of creating new life is far more basic than you would believe. It’s all about raising and lowering the ground. Yes, that’s really just about it. Doing this will change the temperature of the biome which affects what kind of life lives or dies.
By moving the land up and down you can make more water to flood the area, delve into super deep water, or even create mountainous regions. The landmass is restrictively small, almost a little too small for what I would have hoped. It seems stingy and claustrophobic although the excuse is that your area it’s a perfect vertical slice of what the planet would be of a whole. More of a visual representation of the planet. Saying that, it does expand after playing a short while to give you a little more room to breathe but I would have still liked a much wider playing field in order to diversify better.
The gameplay is very simple. You jump into your world, change what you want, pop back out and fast forward time and allow evolution to unfold. At the side of the screen you have a kind of update feed as to how species are doing over time. Some will reduce, others will thrive, occasionally you will discover a new species. At this point you’ll probably want to jump back into your world to find and identify the new life form in order for it to appear on your evolution tree.
You can navigate your biome up close, gliding around to check on your species and tag the new ones. I did find it very difficult at first to find the new creatures in the overwhelming crowd of fluttering things, vegetation and landscape getting in the way. It wasn’t until later on that I found out going in to first-person mode makes their location more clear.
This is another gripe I have with Happy Birthdays, the interface and controls aren’t particularly intuitive. I found myself often fiddling around with different buttons just to get to one menu or one ability, more often than not pressing a few wrong buttons along the way to finding the correct input. In a game like this it’s not so important, pressing the wrong button isn’t going to kill you or ruin your game, but it’s not ideal.
This evolution tree is the guide you’ll need to achieve your main evolutionary goal – humankind. This tree tells you how to get to the next stage of evolution for different species; the temperature needed, the population size and the kind of terrain. There are hundreds of species in this game, both animals and flowers, mostly realistic with some elements of fantasy thrown in. In that regard, Happy Birthdays is quite a large game. It will take a long while to get all of the species available in the log.
Sadly, for me, Happy Birthdays is just a little too hands off when it comes to being involved in the creatures’ development. You pump up the ground or deepen it, let time pass by and wait to see what happens. As weird as it is for me to say this, it’s just too experimental with not enough guidance or input.
There needed to be more influence and control in the world. Specifically placing items or animals, environmental features and so on to change the how things develop would have been far more rewarding and interesting. It’s just a little too shallow for me and it’s not quite the playground I was hoping for.
I can see what they were going for but their ambitions were probably let down with budgetary restraints which is a shame. I would have loved this game to have a bit more meat to it, but like all evolution based games, it just hasn’t quite reached the scope it needed to be a success.
Visuals & Performance
From a visual standpoint it’s a little on the basic side. This is not a big budget game by any means and that kind of shows. It’s an ambitious project with very simple graphics and animations. I really enjoy how bright and colourful it is but when you zoom in close enough the models and textures are quite unflattering. It doesn’t really affect the enjoyment of the game though since that’s not what it’s about. You can forgive the low image quality for what they’re trying to achieve with the game design.
Performance wise, it’s sadly not as smooth as it really should be. Zooming in and panning the camera around can make the frame rate absolutely chug, so much so you feel you’re playing a very unoptimised port of the game. In all honesty, it did effect my enjoyment of the game. It took me out of the tranquility Happy Birthdays can provide. There was also so very noticeable pop-in which I feel shouldn’t be in a game like this, especially when it’s all in such a small space.
The audio is pretty subdued and takes a backseat to the game. At times when you’re taking care of your world there can be complete silence. A solemn piano may appear once in a while and as you enter different landscapes the music will change which is a nice touch. The music that I did notice was very chilled and relaxed and I overall enjoyed it but I wish it could have been slightly more prominent.
Value is a tough one because as per usual for an NIS America game it commands a high price point. At $39.99 and £39.99 I’m not entirely sure the high price is worth the pretty experimental nature of the game to be honest. I know NIS America value their products higher than most casual fans would like and I feel this is another case of that. I feel a nice budget price would have served this one very well, so for me I would certainly wait for a sale or find a physical copy which should be cheaper. Once again, NIS America are taking their European customers for a bit of a ride with the price conversion. If you want to buy this digitally, purchase it over on the America eShop.
Below par performance