The damning sound effect that play whenever a species goes extinct (and often multiple species go extinct at once, when, for example you've been forced to drastically raise the temperature to pave the way for a diplodocus) becomes a trigger for a pang of micro-grief, as one pet dies to make room for another. There is unique and unusual pleasure to balancing this world just so, but without a straightforward way to restart chapters, or way to wind the clock back to undo decisions, the troughs of frustration eventually come to overwhelm the peaks of delight.
Properly articulating what Birthdays means to me is difficult. It is the embodiment of the pure joy of gaming, where I can sit down and simply immerse myself within this space without feeling pressure or tension. There’s nothing to “win,” but everything to enjoy while, at the same time, the game is pointing out, in its very innocent and heartfelt way, a very simple but so important environmental message. To Yasuhiro Wada, the environment itself has always been the real protagonist of his games, and Birthdays The Beginning is the ultimate realisation of that philosophy.
Even though certain design elements aren't as streamlined, fleshed-out, or user-friendly as they could have been, part of me is just thankful Birthdays even got greenlit. Niche as it might be, I've wanted something like this for years, and despite my admittedly high expectations, I still came away impressed. I hope the game is able to find an audience, because it so clearly deserves one.
Wada says he named the game Birthdays the Beginning because he sees this as the start of a larger series. Perhaps there are some elements that didn’t make it here that could redeem Birthdays down the line. For the time being, it’s a tedious and obscure simulation that, more than anything else, made me yearn for another SimEarth.
Despite the unique nature of Birthdays the Beginning, and how it approaches the god game genre from a completely new direction, I really can’t see it appealing to too many people. It has the potential to be a decent learning tool, but the progression blocks in the early game, combined with a tutorial that just doesn’t explain anything in enough depth, will keep most people from seeing the best bits anyway. Sir David Attenborough is a better bet, if you want entertainment while you learn.