Available On: PC, PS4
Sim games tend to either focus on realistic physics and sciences, such as Kerbal Space Program, or a more casual approach, such as Spore.
Birthdays the Beginning is a life sim and god game that successfully straddles the line between the two philosophies. It uses the real-world applications of geology, temperature, and ecosystems to craft a diorama of life. Everything is wrapped within a cute veneer of youthful colors, relaxing music, and playful designs to create an intuitive entry into learning about life’s delicate balance.
Birthdays the Beginning explores the history of life and evolution by giving you a small cube made up of squares. You’re represented by a fairy-like figure who flies above the action to survey your growing world. Your only real means of interaction are raising and lowering the land, but it’s impressive how you can direct the flow of life with just a few adjustments.
Raising the land also raises the cube’s temperature – and temperature is the single most important element to the diversity of life. Likewise lowering land and adding water and seas lowers the temperature. You’ll spend much of your time flying around the cube, either designing a lovely garden or haphazardly rolling around building up jagged mountains and low swamp lands.
The actual birth of life and evolution is mostly a hands-off affair. Stepping out to Macro Mode lets you advance time and watch as new life and mutations occur, depending on how you’ve molded your cube. Each life form (around 300 total) has a birth requirement, involving moisture level, temperature, and prerequisite life. Birthing new plants and animals is deceptively tricky. You may have a global temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, but no suitable area for the creature you’re trying to birth.
A helpful in-game library and life tree lets you analyze which creatures you can unlock. Once a new creature is birthed, you can return to Micro Mode to find it and capture it, unlocking its entry in the library and earning experience.
Leveling up gives you more energy to shape the land for longer periods of time, as well as giving you larger brushes to manipulate more land with a single button press. It’s well balanced and fits perfectly with the Story Mode, which tasks you with advancing through the important stages of Earth’s history by reaching certain milestones, such as the Age of Dinosaurs, and the Age of Humans.
I was particularly impressed with the whimsical and emotional tale that surrounds the Story Mode. It tells the story of a young person who discovers this magical world and learns, along with the player, about the importance and structure of life. Along with its charming art style, Birthdays the Beginning would make a great game for young kids.
The colors are bright and friendly and each creature looks like it could be the stuffed animal belonging to a young child. I’ve never seen more adorable dinosaurs.
Unfortunately I was constantly fighting the controls. As laid-back and casual as the experience was, flying around was far more frustrating than it should have been.
As your cube expands in Story Mode, you remain tethered to your small physical avatar. Your flight level is tied to the ground beneath you, meaning your camera view is constantly snapping up and down as you explore. A first-person mode is available but felt slow and cumbersome. The mini-map was also annoying as it doesn’t rotate with your point of view. Exploring the fruits of your labors should have been rewarding, but often it was a chore in the later stages.
I was also disappointed that much of the game is spent simply watching time go by in Macro Mode. Once you’ve crafted your world you’re limited to sitting back and watching what new life appears. This can be fun when entering a new era and during big explosions of life. But it becomes tedious to stop time to capture one new mutation, then return to Macro Mode to monitor the timeline again.
Two other game modes are available in addition to the impressively lengthy Story. A Challenge Mode was right up my alley. They give you a single task, a pre-built cube, and sometimes a specific restriction, such as height elevation causing 3x the temperature change. A Free Play mode lets you choose your cube size and whether you want to start over with unlocking new life. Strangely you still have to level up and use energy, so it’s not a complete sandbox.
Birthdays the Beginning has been rated E for Everyone. There’s no violence whatsoever. Creatures do not directly interact with each other; predators simply eat an innocuous hunk of meat. It’s very kid-friendly and could be used as a fun tool for teaching kids (and adults) about pre-history, evolution, and how temperature plays an important role in sustaining life.
Despite my niggling frustrations with the controls and camera, I had a delightful time with Birthdays the Beginning. The friendly, casual atmosphere pulled me in while the large variety of creatures kept me invested. “One more turn,” became “One more birth.” My five year old was equally thrilled to construct her own towering mountains and vast seas, and discover what new life would inhabit them. Birthdays the Beginning is a refreshing sim game where life definitely finds a way.