Tuesday, June 5

Review: Happy Birthdays [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The “god game” genre is one that quite some time ago was popular but that hasn’t seen much representation in more recent years. The principle is usually that you’re given the power to shape and nudge the natural environment through indirect means to then observe its progress in some way. That’s very much the case in Happy Birthdays, where you start with only a relatively small section of land to work with, generally trying to create an environment that isn’t just habitable to various forms of life but where they can also thrive.

Through the pretty lengthy tutorial (it is needed) you’ll be shown the ropes for what it takes to cultivate this space. In general, everything you do will have an effect. Lowering the land, on the whole, will progressively raise temperatures while making mountains will help lower them. In order to cultivate a wide variety of both flora and fauna species you’ll want to try to carve out some space for a variety of critters, though later as you’re able to expand the scope of what you’re caring for perhaps you’ll decide to have dedicated zones that are a bit more segregated rather than right on top of each other. One of the beauties of the experience is that with its sandbox nature there’s really no set answer on how to get from where you start to some of the game’s goals like setting the stage for the evolution of humans… you’ll need to experiment and flounder a bit along the way but with perseverance you can get there.

What can make the game exciting, but is also its greatest weakness, is its sheer complexity and how with so much going on it can be hard to tell what to do or be effective without simply trying and failing. For people who want to embrace the sandbox experimentation it’s likely going to be interesting and full of possibilities but for anyone looking for things to reveal themselves a bit more easily I’d imagine it will be confounding. Further exacerbating the issues are the dense (and generally difficult to navigate) menus full of information that can be a challenge to easily break down and work with, as well as the controls that can be equally awkward whether in docked or handheld mode.

In the end there are some positives to be taken from Happy Birthdays but you really need to be in love with the concept and the core gameplay enough to dedicate yourself to getting over the hurdles it generally throws in its own way. In many ways the game feels unrefined and not quite fully-realized, more of a hodge podge of ideas thrown together and put on a shelf. Truthfully this does put it firmly with many other efforts in this genre, high-concept games that collapse a bit under their own ambition. While there’s enough here to be worthwhile it’s absolutely not going to be something just anyone will be compelled to thrown a ton of hours into.

Score: 6

  • Some creative ideas
  • An enormous number of potential species for you to discover
  • Has a demo on the eShop you can try first

  • Even with a lengthy tutorial there’s still so much that is unclear
  • The controls and interfaces are cumbersome at best
  • Discovery is generally haphazard and almost random most of the time
  • In general, feels unfinished