There’s something about the idea of god games always intrigues me. One of my all-time favorite games growing up was Sim Theme Park on the PC. However, since my childhood, god games have been disappointingly underwhelming. I can happily say that this was not the case with Happy Birthdays. From the creative mind of Harvest Moon, Ysuhiro Wada, comes another hit.
In this game your main goal is to create modern human life from primitive building blocks. You do this through several different means like raising mountains, digging valleys, or just outright enacting global warming. There are also three game modes which all have the same gameplay, but different end goals.
The look of Happy Birthdays is reminiscent of many other god games with its simplistic aesthetic. The chibi artstyle is so adorable that even the monstrous plesiosaur looks precious. There’s also a first-person mode which lets you get up close and personal with your little creatures. The best part is the ability to remove the UI while mucking it up with your creations. This allows you to get right up to the animals and capture all their details with no obstructions.
Besides the in-game art there is also some beautifully drawn cutscene stills. They don’t typically last too long unless you decide to sit there without touching the controller.
The story in Happy Birthdays can only be described as bizarre. You wake up in a mysterious building and don’t remember how you arrived there. Then your guide, Navi, reveals that they won’t let you go back home until you evolve a handful of dinosaurs into modern humans. Once you reach the end *SPOILERS* you escape the building and run back home. *END SPOILERS* Let’s be real though, nobody is here for the story. It’s all about the gameplay
Building a Skyscraper with Lincoln Logs
Happy Birthdays looks like a cute, simple world building game on the surface, but there are countless layers of depth here. Even though there is depth in the building, the tools by themselves are easy to understand. If you just want to play the game with the simple elevation tools, then you can still enjoy it and be successful. It’ll just take you much longer to progress through the game.
The ability to change temperatures adds another aspect that makes the game much easier. You typically need to change elevation or water levels to impact your world’s temp. The global warming and global cooling tools instantly make a much more dramatic impact on the temperature of your world. While this may seem detrimental, it’s a key to being able to build a world conducive to harboring human life.
These tools are controlled by your HP and stars, both of which are easy to horde. You earn stars and XP quickly. When you level up your HP increases which enables you to move more terrain. The one complaint I have about the gameplay is that they set these arbitrary limits on how much land you can move at one time. In certain game modes it makes sense to maintain the challenge. When you’re just playing in free play mode though it only feels like a hinderance.
The individual plant and animal species which inhabit your world are the most intricate, delicate part of Happy Birthdays. Each one has specific needs that will allow them to be born and then thrive. For example, modern humans can only come into existence if ancient humans existed, if you have enough wheat plants in the world, if you have enough humans, if your world is at least 42% grass, if the temperature is between 13C-23C, if the humidity is 9%-63%, if you have plants and meat to eat, and finally if there is enough salt. It gets complicated, but it never feels overwhelming.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Happy Birthdays was provided by NIS America.