Developer: Arc System Works & Toybox
Publisher: NIS America & Arc System Works
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Simulation & Other
Release Date: March 29 (JP), June 5, 2018 (NA) & June 8, 2018 (EU)
Happy Birthdays is a game I was genuinely excited for. It looked like a light-hearted, fun little sandbox game that would combine elements from other games to create its own little nuanced title. That, unfortunately, is not what I was faced with when playing Happy Birthdays for the first time. Where the art style and gameplay idea shines, the execution, music and overall feel of Happy Birthdays just fails to succeed in most ways to me, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it.
Happy Birthdays is a game about life. It’s a game that changes your perspective on life, as, yourself, will be tasked with creating it – being the spark that births fauna and flora into this universe. It sounds like a fun task, being god, however, this game shows just how boring evolution can be; in the most mundane way possible. It’s hard to talk about Happy Birthdays in the context of a game, because, from my time with it, Happy Birthdays felt more like an experience. Throughout my playthrough, I found myself having very little interaction with my worlds, and instead sitting impatiently, waiting for species to die out and new species to flourish.
Creating new species is the whole aim of Happy Birthdays – the game is essentially about you becoming a god. Your mission? To give life to cold, dead worlds. The concept is fantastic, take something with no potential, and using your own intuition and skill, beautifully craft a world perfect for the target species – however, the true gameplay of Happy Birthdays is all about balancing a counter. Raising one side of the scale so another can drop. It all feels so tedious and unnecessary, and frankly, it’s just not fun. In fact, the game can be so complicated and tedious, that even the in-game guide, Navi, states that it’s a lot to take in.
There are multiple ways to experience Happy Birthdays, whether it is taking on the brave task of creating humans, to other challenges that the game throws at you; there will always be something to work towards. The problem is though, how boring the journey to actually creating them is. Depending on what level or starting cube you’ve chosen, the gameplay literally just consists of raising and lowering terrain until you meet the correct temperature and moisture requirements, and then sitting, waiting for an hour until your desired species evolves.
The nature of this game just feels so counterintuitive – in games like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon, yes, it takes a while for anything to happen, but there is always something to do in the meantime. If Happy Birthdays allowed progress to happen while offline or playing a different game, it would definitely make more sense, as I don’t understand why anybody would want to wait in the game for upwards of an hour for anything at all to happen.
Happy Birthdays feels like a game that plays itself, there is hardly any input from the player, and even when there is input, it doesn’t motivate you to do anything creative or unique with your worlds – everything just seems pointless. A lot of the mechanics just straight up make no sense – however, there is some fun to be had in the game, especially if you have a Pokémon ‘Gotta Catch em’ all!’ mentality. When a new creature has its ‘Happy Birthday’ you can interact with it to capture it. Capturing a creature logs it in your Library and allows you to view the family tree of all of the creatures. It can sometimes feel tedious, but it at least gives you some kind of reason to explore and move around your world.
There are other modes, such as ‘Challenge’ where the game tasks you to evolve or give life to a specific creature within a certain time limit and with a limited cube. These sound interesting, and will offer a couple hours of gameplay at most before they become tedious, repetitive and boring again, but they’re there for the players wanting something more than just ‘raise terrain, wait, human’. ‘Free Mode’ is the other unique mode in Happy Birthdays, it allows you to choose a cube size and freely do whatever you want in it. This is where the game gave me some fun, I had no linear quests, no waiting around for my objective to complete, I could do what I want, without restrictions. You can choose whatever you want to evolve, whenever, and it all feels like the bulk of the game’s fun is here.
The visuals of this game are super quirky, and I definitely see the appeal in them. All of the creatures are super cartoony and have a really unique art style that fits the theme of the game well. The game itself is vibrant, colourful and overall pleasing to eyes. The UI is the only thing that ruins the game’s visuals, as there is just too much of it. If the UI was cut down and more intuitive, the game would feel less clunky and tedious to play with as well as feel more aesthetically pleasing. The game’s sounds and music are straight up boring, the game feels like it uses a 2 minute song on loop throughout the game, and the music does not match the feel of the game at all, the sound effects are fine, but can sometimes give you a headache every time a new creature is born or becomes extinct. Most of the time, you will hear mundane background music with some popping sound effects – it’s recommended you listen to your own music to experience Happy Birthdays.
Overall, Happy Birthdays is not a good game. But it also isn’t the worst game I’ve ever played. If you’re looking for more of an ‘experience’ on the Switch, and you also have a LOT of patience and time, then I’d recommend Happy Birthdays, especially if you’re a massive fan of life simulation games. But at the price point of $70 AUD, I simply cannot recommend you purchase this game. I hate to bring price into reviews, but the game simply feels like an overpriced mobile game in its entirety. If it’s ever on sale though, and you’re interested in a game where you’re literally a god, then you’ll definitely have a blast. Until then, Happy Birthdays has a free demo on the eShop which is worth picking up, if you’re on the fence about the huge price commitment.
THE VERDICT: 5/10
*Review Key Provided by NIS America
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This post was written by Ruairi O'Brien (Lucariocios)