NIS America may be one of my favourite game publishers, not because of a consistent level of quality, but more because of the level of weirdness they bring to the west. Usually these are JRPGs/ Graphic Novels that land on a wide and diverse scale. Happy Birthdays on the other hand couldn’t be further from what I expect from NISA, and it’s as delightful as it is surprising.
Happy Birthdays is a god simulator, where you get given a terrarium where you must create and evolve new life. You do this by moving terrain around, changing the temperature, and basically trying to optimise the world for what you are hoping to grow.
The game is framed in a narrative where you explored a cave, found a bright light, and suddenly are talking to a weird alien called Navi who helps you to get to its goal, of creating modern humans in the terrarium. I stopped caring about the story immediately, instead engrossed in the gameplay.
The goal of trying to create humans, is a carrot at the end of a long stick, which can be detrimental in the early game. You know it’s where you want to get to, but you’re far away from it, while trying to grasp the game’s mechanics. When I stopped caring about that, and instead freely played around in the world, I soon found myself on the path to modern humans, which was the right time to start working for that goal.
Most of your time will be spent playing with terrain, which changes the whole environment. When you raise enough land high enough, the temperature starts to drop, when you drop more land below the ocean, the temperature rises. There are other factors like moisture, but they tend to work in check with the temperatures you go for. Having diverse water depths, and land masses combine with temperatures, you can start to manipulate they way the wildlife, plant and animals, evolve.
Time only passes in your terrarium when you zoom out from the cube. This lets you kick in time, skip chunks of time, and watch as thousands of years zip by and the life changes. You watch flashing lights in your cube which indicates where life is being created, or killed, as a chart on the side shows population changes. You can stop at any time to zoom back in for some more tinkering.
You can use other special abilities, such as evolution seeds which will kick in changes quicker than normal but using this too much can result in your creatures evolving but dying in their unsuitable environment. When I first evolved modern humans using a seed, I zoomed out to let their population grow, but it didn’t take long before they were extinct.
Once you beat the new game mode, you can start another new game using one of the other three starting terrariums. These are nice and varied, so you will have a totally different experience with them. But if you don’t want to lose the world you have crafted, the other option is to import it into Free Mode. This lets you tinker indefinitely, to your hearts content. Be careful though, many hours were lost in the process of trying this out.
If aimless time killing isn’t your style, or you’re scared of how many hours may be lost, there is a challenge mode. Your goal is with a set amount of time, to get a specific dinosaur to be born. The first challenge was easy enough that I accidentally completed it, but they get hard very fast.
One of the best thing about Happy Birthdays is its simplified representations of populations. 50,000 crocodiles may be represented by one croc hunting by the water. This lets you work with huge populations, in a small terrarium. More importantly this means you can zoom in, and watch your creatures wandering around the world you have made for them. It also made it crushing when my Woolly Mammoths went extinct.
Happy Birthdays is the best god game I have played in a long time. It can feel intimidating at first, but some blind experimentation will quickly find you with some rhythm. It’s a game perfect for a Switch as you relax and multitask. Make sure your first half hour is in docked mode, so you can take in the massive amount of information easier.
8/10 - Putting the Happy in Happy Birthdays