What is Birthdays the Beginning?
Birthdays: The Beginning is a bright, cute and colourful life simulator that takes in billions of years of evolution, as you tweak your own cube-shaped ecosystem to make life happen. By creating certain conditions, you'll be able to evolve everything from dinosaurs to monkeys to modern man, shaping the terrain to create the optimum conditions for each life form to move in, as you work your way through all 300 of the species on offer.
How do you play Birthdays the Beginning?
Rather than directly introducing a T-Rex, mouse or caveman to your planet, you instead play Birthdays: The Beginning by tweaking your terrain, as you attempt to create an ecosystem that'll encourage certain species to take up residence. Every plant, animal and creature has their own unique requirements for temperature, water levels and terrain type (mountains, deep seas, lowland etc), and it's up to you mould your land in order to create the necessary conditions for life. Fortunately, Birthdays: The Beginning works on a few simple rules - seas increase the temperature (and moisture levels), while hills decrease the temperature - and that's as complex as it gets. So, by cleverly combining hills, deep seas and flat plains, you can create microclimates for a whole variety of different species, motoring your way through billions of years of evolution, and creating all kinds of creatures along the way.
With the exception of the Free Mode, which lets you go nuts with your own blank planet with no fixed objectives to complete, both Story Mode and Challenge Mode give you a bit more of a structure. In Story Mode, you'll be working under the watchful eye of a mysterious voice known as Navi, who'll walk you through the basics of creating ecosystems and attracting creatures, as you play through billions of years of evolution, right from the birth of the first simple organisms through to modern man itself. Challenge Mode meanwhile gives you a target creature you need to birth, and a set time limit (usually hundreds of thousands of years) in which to do it, often with a few challenging stipulations thrown into the mix - perhaps a planet whose temperature fluctuates wildly, terrain you can't alter, or a mission to reintroduce a species that's already gone extinct. The time limit may sound generous, but given the somewhat random nature of evolution, as well as the fact that any terrain modifications you do make will take hundreds of thousands of years to take effect, it's a lot more challenging than it first sounds!
How easy is Birthdays the Beginning to pick up and play?
While the controls can take a bit of getting used to at first, the slow pace and general absence of any time limits (at least, while you're editing your planet) mean you have plenty of time to get the hang of things. Luckily, the Story Mode works as a handy tutorial, walking through the ins and outs of Birthdays: The Beginning too.
Generally speaking, the rules that govern Birthdays: The Beginning are pretty simple to get your head round, but actually tweaking your landscape to get the temperature etc within the range for your target creature can take a bit of trial and error - not to mention requiring you to keep a watchful eye on the metres on the right hand side of the screen. If you overshoot, you may find key species heading towards extinction, and while you can always tweak things to bring them back to life, a degree of micromanagement and forward planning is required.
Also, it's worth bearing in mind that there is no auto save on Birthdays: The Beginning - despite the fact it appears to save at the end of each completed scenario. As such, you should always make sure you make a manual save via the Options menu before you quit, especially when you're playing in the Story or Free Modes.
For the youngest of players, the game itself is actually surprisingly text heavy too, with your assistant Navi's instructions - which often include which creature you should be aiming for next, and the conditions with which to create them - being relayed through text only, with no voice over. As such, if you really want to get the most out of the game, a solid reading ability is pretty much a given. That being said, if all you really want to do is mess about and create your own cube planet full of whatever creatures happen to like your current landscaping, then the open-ended Free Mode is much less text heavy, and a nice alternative for those who may struggle with the main game.
- "By raising and lowering the terrain, you can influence this world's environment. Basically, raising the land will decrease its temperature and lowering the land will increase it."
- "This is Stromatolite, a rock-like organism made of algae that lives in high temperature shallows. Why was Stromatolite born, you ask? Because the location met the conditions for life. Therefore, it was born."
- "Lowland of 41 degrees C, minimum 6000 Callunia, and moisture 15%. These are the conditions for birth."
Birthdays: The Beginning is as inoffensive and friendly as they come - there's no blood and guts, no bad language, no violence and no sex whatsoever. Carnivorous animals aren't even shown preying on other animals, with every species instead living happily side by side, with the only hint at a food chain being the odd cartoon joint of meat that appears for them to eat during one of their idle animations. However, as this is a game based on the evolution of an ecosystem, you may want to be aware that some animals will go extinct during the course of the game - which may upset some youngsters who grow particularly attached to a certain dinosaur.