Birthdays the Beginning is a pretty strange title for a pretty strange game. It’s a god game in which you manipulate a cubic world in order to create new lifeforms. As far as elevator pitches go, it doesn’t sound terribly interesting, but it does just about enough to hold your attention – if only for a short time.
You begin with the story mode, in which you’re tasked with charting the evolutionary path from single celled organisms to modern humans. What little there is of the story is inconsequential, and quickly falls by the wayside. The game itself, however, can be quite engaging. As you progress, Navi (a helpful blue diamond) instructs you on which species you should aim for next on the evolutionary tree. Hitting these targets can take some time and effort, but it’s satisfying when new creatures emerge as a result.
You must raise and lower the landscape in order to create suitable habitats for the various flora and fauna. Over time you need to fine tune your world so that the creatures populating it can evolve and diversify effectively. Changing the terrain also alters the air temperature and the moisture levels, both of which can have a significant impact on the survival of the different beasts and plants. When you come to the dinosaur age, for example, you need to ensure the world is suitably hot enough. Drastically changing the world and its temperature can cause mass extinctions, but you will occasionally need to do this on your quest for completing the timeline. Each species has different requirements for birth, and you’ll need to pay attention to some of these details, too.
You’ll also pick up several items along the way, such as HP boosts (changing the landscape reduces your health), stones that dramatically raise or lower the temperature in a certain area, and seeds which increase the chances of evolution. These items go a long way in helping maintain your world and can make big changes fast, for better or worse.
The game attempts to explain everything to you succinctly, but it can be a little overwhelming when you start. A lot of elements are introduced very quickly, resulting in some early confusion as you get to grips with how it all works. Fortunately, time doesn’t pass while you’re fiddling about with the layout of your cube, so you can take as long as you like tinkering away. It’s when you fly out to macro mode (to use the game’s vernacular) that you can set the world clock in motion, and it’s here where the major changes to your ecosystem will occur.
This screen offers a breather from the generally confounding controls during regular play. It also contains a lot of information, including a ticker showing you the progress of each lifeform, and another box that gives you a lowdown on the stats of the cube, such as temperature or ratio of land to sea. It’s all useful and all necessary, but we felt that it was a little too much to look at all at once. The stats and numbers involved in the gameplay also seem at odds with the simple, blocky, colourful presentation.
Thankfully, once you reach the end of the story, you’ll unlock a free play mode, where the finer details can be followed or completely ignored. As you’d expect, you can pick a size of cube and then do exactly as you please, with no fail states or parameters for success. You can make a water world, or a cube of mountains and valleys, then sit back and see what life springs up. This in itself is quite fun, and you can easily get carried away with “capturing” each species in order to complete the Pokédex-esque Library.
Having said that, you do spend a lot of your time in Birthdays the Beginning simply sitting around, watching species come and go, usually in wait of one in particular. While the story mode provides purpose, free play can quickly become boring.
Birthdays the Beginning is an oddity: it’s a relaxed, cutesy god game, but it also requires you to follow strict rules and pay attention to a vast array of stats, which can kill the fun factor to a degree. The free play mode makes for a more chilled out time, however, while the challenges offer more objective-based gameplay for those that want it. The creature capturing is initially compelling, but once you’ve seen everything, the game doesn’t really have anything to draw you back in.