Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: NIS America
Every now and then something special comes along that fits a niche you didn’t know you were missing. Happy Birthdays is the zen sandbox game I didn’t know I needed, but I’m glad to have in my life. Alter terrain and bend creation to your whim as you watch the world take on a life of its own!
Happy Birthdays is what some people would refer to as a “god game.” You will shape the environment, much like a deity would. Though it’s a common mechanic in many of today’s games, some people may be concerned to know that once life begins to grow, evolution is considered a natural part of that process here. Creatures will flourish and die out, causing new species to evolve and grow from those dying species.
Other Negative Themes
By and large, Happy Birthdays just revels in the power of creation and destruction. The worlds are your sandbox to do with as you want, creating mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and more, and watching the ecosystem grow and change as a result of your actions.
Happy Birthdays may be one of the most upbeat, happy-go-lucky games I’ve ever played. When I first fired it up, I didn’t know what expect. I knew from the trailers there would be a world full of fun, goofy looking creatures all over the place. Beyond that, your guess was as good as mine. What I ended up with was an experience full of exploration and experimentation and what I consider to be one of my favorite idle games on any platform.
The story is little more than a contrivance to establish a reason for the gameplay. You, the player, find yourself in a cave, and seemingly transported to another place and time. In that place, you’re thrown into the body of what looks like a skinny power ranger, given some advice and mechanical help from a sentient octahedron, and told your goal. It’s a goofy, inconsequential setup and nothing more.
The real meat and potatoes of Happy Birthdays is in the world building and simulation once you’re turned loose. You can start on a variety of prebuilt world templates: frozen, scorched, temperate, and stone slab. From there, you’re given the tools to raise and lower terrain to your will, creating vast mountain ranges, rolling plains, or ocean deeps, consequently altering the temperature of the world you’re building.
I earlier stated that this was an idle game and I stand by that, but you do need to be conscious of what creatures and plant life you want to inhabit your world. Humans, for example, require a certain world temperature range, a minimum population of domesticated dogs, a certain moisture range, and yes, a minimum population of prehistoric people which, in turn, require a certain number of primates. There’s a large tree that’s accessible in-game so you can see what each creature requires and you can work toward those conditions. It requires the full ecosystem be in sync to truly flourish like you need.
As you build and terraform, you use energy. When your energy runs out, you have to zoom out to the world view and let the simulation run. As the simulation runs on its own, you’ll recover your energy but, what’s more, you can watch with each tick of the clock how the populations of each creature abound and dwindle. You’ll receive notifications when new species are born into the world (the titular Happy Birthdays, if you will) as well as a little skull animation when a species goes extinct. When these events occur, you can pause the simulation and zoom back into your world to find and collect the new creation. If you just want the simulation to run in overdrive, you can expend your energy from the outer-world view to just let it go full bore.
Beyond simply raising and lowering terrain, the game gives you a host of other tools to utilize in your quest. Using currency gained from collecting new species, you can stimulate the growth of a chosen species, spark a burst of floral growth, copy and replicate species DNA, and more. Each square of your cubical map will have its own height, moisture, and temperature, so cloning a creature into a new spot could be a key way to spur the growth you need for that next major milestone.
Once you finish the default main game, there are several other ways to keep your world-building going. There are challenge maps that give you a specific pre-built world with a single objective (cultivate the world so dinosaur X appears) or, if you want that zen sort of experience, you can spin up a world in the free mode and just relax.
While the graphics on Switch aren’t particularly jaw-dropping, the creature design is absolutely fantastic. Like something from a Dragon Quest game or some other anime, the animals have cute designs with big, round cartoon eyes and seemingly endearing demeanors. Though the simulated numbers clearly show otherwise, the creatures all seemingly co-exist peacefully. This is a game you could hand to a child just to let them browse around the world and see the animals for hours. It’s family friendly and fun. The soundtrack is lighthearted and calming as well, encouraging a smooth, relaxing experience.
At the end of the day, Happy Birthdays was more than I had ever expected. I was able to burn the hours away terraforming my terrain and catering the world to spin up new creatures. It could be a great game for folks looking for a relaxing time to just curl up and enjoy a few moments at the end of a long day. While it won’t appeal to gamers looking for a deep narrative experience, there’s a lot to love about Happy Birthdays and its cute, calming take on the world beside that ship in a bottle.
Review copy provided by NIS America
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