As a sandbox and god-game hybrid, Birthdays The Beginning is somewhat of a surprising title coming from NIS. It’s out for PC and PS4, and we took a look at the console version.
When Birthdays The Beginning was announced by NIS, we couldn’t help but look at their recent games and feeling like Birthdays was unlike anything we’d seen from them before. It’s a sandbox title with an evolutionary spin to it, with visuals that sit somewhere in between Minecraft and Viva Pinata.
Being a sandbox game, it’s surprising that there’s a central premise behind everything – although I suppose NIS usually excels at the story aspect of their games so perhaps they could not NOT have something of a story here as well. The story is very thin in Birthdays though, serving more as a setup (that casts you into the role of someone assisting a divine being in creating life) than as something that helps shape the story in any kind of significant way throughout your play sessions.
Fueling the evolution of life within your sandbox is the core element here, and it starts by sculpting your landscape. This is very similar to what Populous did in the late eighties (and which Peter Molyneux did once more with Godus) in that you raise or lower the land available to you, but Birthdays adds an extra layer to this: climate change. Raising the land means a higher likelihood of snow whereas lowering the land eventually leads to bodies of water. This means that you can create microclimates that are perfect for one kind of species, but not very hospitable for another.
The above is pretty much the central concept behind all of Birthdays, but things become more intricate as time passes. As your evolutionary tree grows and develops more branches, it becomes a challenge to figure out how different species can co-exist in the same game world. Since evolution (and the effects of your changes) take time, you can zoom out and accelerate time before zooming back in and making more changes.
Balance is key, and not just between species. There are always species that will (over time) wreck your ecosystem if you’re not careful enough, so you have to keep monitoring and changing things to see what works best. To aid you, the game (or rather its divine being) also gives you a few tools to use at regular intervals – which allow you to apply changes beyond what the forces of nature themselves offer you.
Aside from playing in the game’s main (sandbox) mode, you can also tackle close to a dozen challenge missions that give you specific targets and restrictions to work with. These are fun diversions from the main game mode, which despite its rising complexity can get a tad tedious as you keep following the same patterns. Then again, this is what a lot of sandbox games are about, and that won’t stop genre fans from enjoying it.
Birthdays has an art style that is familiar yet unique, with its Minecraft-like worlds in which cartoon-like animals try to make a home. The roles that evolution and climate control play certainly are nice and unique twists as well, and it’s quite different from the likes of Spore in this regard. If you enjoy sandbox games then Birthdays is a nice new addition to the genre. It’s certainly not the most action-packed title on PS4 this year, but it’s definitely a pleasant surprise from NIS.