Birthdays the Beginning is the latest title by Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada and focuses on bringing life to a new, mysterious world. When your character enters a cave and finds a small cube and a creature he’s never laid eyes on before, he’s whisked away to their world to become its creator.
There isn’t much in the way of story as you tackle the games campaign mode, where you’re tasked to introduce specific forms of life, maintain temperatures and more to create a thriving world, with each creature having unique requirements. Whether it’s changing the terrain, making areas more or less moist or creating food for animals to eat, there’s plenty you’ll need to do to maintain life. Animals go extinct if not properly taken care of and whilst it’s certainly a big info-dump at the start, it’s easier to come to grips with than I had expected. You don’t have very long though because between the games four chapters, it doesn’t take very long to reach the end.
Each chapter will give you an overall goal to reach such as chapter two tasking you to give life to dinosaurs — maybe they won’t go extinct this time! It’s not particularly exciting and really most of your time will be spent waiting to see what creature will spawn next, or fiddling around with vague instructions on how to achieve specific requirements to specific creatures — sometimes you’ll have to force a race to extinction so that another can thrive, leaving you with a little less freedom than you may like — you do unlock Free Mode later on though, so you can do whatever you’d like.
The controls can be a tad awkward to use, specifically in first-person, and the cameras controls are inverted without option to change them — definitely not my favourite way to play games and it made for a frustrating experience. I’m unsure as to how the option isn’t there and it’s a strange oversight — I just want my camera to go right when I steer right, you know? The control scheme in general is cumbersome and will inevitably lead to a few mistakes which are equally as painful to undo, and they continue to feel clunky regardless of how much time you clock in.
Visually it’s very animated, cute and simple, with a unique art style and plenty of charm. A few animals or plants of each race will appear in the cube, despite having thousands of them actually being alive, to prevent things from being too cluttered — it’s a world of colour with cartoony creatures just doing their business, and it’s rather peaceful when they aren’t going extinct. You zoom out and wait as the years quickly go by and more lifeforms are given birth to, and you zoom back in to modify the terrain — it’s a lot of waiting around rather than engaging. The cube stops the game from being too big and instead it’s contained and manageable, and along with the gameplay this becomes repetitive relatively quickly. There’s very little in the way of audio whether it’s audio or dialogue — if anything, Birthdays the Beginning is primarily sound effects.
Birthdays the Beginning is creative but it’s hard to recommend — it’s nothing quite like Harvest Moon, so don’t go in expecting something along those lines. Repetition doesn’t take long to set in and the campaign is only a handful of hours long, leaving you with very little content. Sure there’s Free Mode, but unless you’re really, really having a blasting with the game then chances are you won’t bother with it too much past the campaign, but there is replayability in stars you earn on each chapter — again though, you have to really care about this because overall it makes no difference. Birthdays the Beginning is a unique game for the PS4, but one that I can’t see myself returning to. If there’s a sequel then hopefully the cool concepts set up here are put to better use.