Friday, May 5, 2017

Birthdays the Beginning (PS4)


birthdays beginning logo
Blending the theories of creationism, and evolution TOYBOX Inc. creator Yasuhiro Wada (Harvest Moon) brings to gaming a somewhat scientific look at the process in which life on a simple to grand scale is birthed, maintained, and managed. Through a brief tale involving a grandchild's fascination with their grandfather's library of books, and the discovery of an otherworldly presence via a map contained therein the developer draws you into gameplay that is both episodic, and uniquely rewarding should you grasp the mechanics at hand. Given an alien avatar to represent your personal being you are ultimately tasked with birthing from a blank slate life itself beginning with the early aquatic stages of simple celled organisms all the way to the Jurassic era where dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and beyond. Guided by Navi, your navigational partner in time, you will change the terrain in unison with temperature through elevation tweaks while throwing in gathered items of intervention to help push along the evolutionary process as time is forced by in cube years. As a god would you will visit the cube world via your avatar persona to influence growth, and change while occasionally returning to an outside point of view to speed up time, and help your applied efforts along. Thus witnessing in their dawn the birthdays of each organism brought to life by your influential additions to an ecosystem that changes at your will, and accordingly so.

birthdays beginning avatar

When it comes to gameplay in "Birthdays the Beginning" you'll find that controls aren't all that difficult to pick up on, but that the attention to detail required to do what needs to be done adds a significant complexity to the situation that is creating a living, and thriving ecosystem. When game first begins you will be shown some panel art inclusive cutscenes that act as a precursor to your predicament. That predicament resulting from your unexpected run in with Navi after having followed a treasure map that was conveniently located in one of your grandfather's old library books. Navi warps you to outer space upon your meeting, and in several contextual tutorials later explains what it is you are supposed to do in order to get back home. Navi kind of teases you with the simple goal of creating life, but as it turns out that's not all that Navi wants. Navi basically wants you to recreate the world you were living in from scratch. This requires that you follow closely Navi's given instructions down to the finest detail.

birthdays beginning land

As you listen to the incoherent beeping, and twerping of Navi while reading what it has to say you'll find your functions within, and outside of the given cube world are somewhat limited, but rather effective at the same time. While in 'Micro' mode (inside the cube world), for example you can hover above land as your alien avatar with a cursor located directly underneath your floating self. By pressing 'R1' you can raise the elevation of the cube's surface via the cursor's position causing a cooling effect on the environment. You can also press 'R2' to lower the elevation, and increase the temperature of the cube world. Doing the latter, and applying a special item that Navi gifts you will create seas. It is from the seas that your first birthday will happen. A birthday that will in effect set the stage for many more unique birthdays to come. The cursor by which all of these things are set into motion changes the terrain on a small to large scale depending on preset size. This cursor can eventually be increased in size (via Left/Right DPad) for easier use by earning EXP. Earning EXP in the game is done solely by capturing the organisms, or life forms that are birthed into existence as you make progress. You simply hover above said organism in the Micro view once it's Birthday is shown in the Macro Birthday feed, and press the touchpad on your controller to capture it's existence in file format. It's birthday will then be documented within the game's "OPTIONS" triggered library menu in a form that takes in account both the birth information of the organism, and it's place in the 'Tree of life". The latter being a tree diagram which takes in account the whole evolutionary process of all organisms, and how they relate to each other in the given chain.

birthdays beginning animals

One important thing to note before I move on is that all of what you do will be done in either Micro, or Macro views. In the Micro view mode you will intervene with the cube world, and it's life forms on a more personal level to create a chain of evolutionary events that will ultimately lead to the completion of the episodic chapter at hand. A chapter which will reward you up to 5 stars for certain met goals once the episode is completed. There are goals which include items used/not used, cube years passed, and even the type of organisms you are able to bring into existence. At first the main goals given by Navi are simple leaving the side star goals as an optional pursuit for perfection. You'll need to begin by birthing the first few aquatic life forms via elevation changes, and applied mutational/evolutionary items. Your end goal being the creation of the first land organism. From there it's onto birthing the first land animal. So forth, and so on. When it comes to points of view both Micro, and Macro modes have their own distinct features that must be taken into account in this process though. In Micro mode your avatar can shape terrain through it's cursor which will influence climate change. Thus influencing which lifeforms can exist, and which ones will perish.

birthdays beginning dinosaurs

While in the Micro view you'll have access to a few panels of statistical information that relate to both surface variables (cursor), and cube world variables (cube). Things like the flora, and fauna are taken into account by numbers, and percentages along with the temperatures found both inside the seas and outside upon the raised landscapes. Usually in your drive to create life you'll have to meet certain stat requirements given by Navi to create the perfect environmental conditions to birth a certain life form. These stat requirements can be accessed while in the Micro view by pressing in 'R3'. Aside from the cursor stat, and cube stat listings you'll also find in place a mini-map which shows locations of items of interest in the form of colored dots, and red squares. By watching your arrow inclusive marker on the mini-map you can gauge where you need to go in order to pick up items, or find new organisms among other things. Also while in Micro mode you can change to a first person view by pressing in 'L3' this will make locating new life easier. As far as using the items that Navi gifts you, or the the ones you pick up in Micro mode after having birthed life goes you can access them by pressing "X", and use them after highlighting them by pressing "SQUARE". You can even assign up to five items to a quick select option for ease of access. The items within the game each carry with them their own individual elemental, and evolutionary perks. You'll also find HP healing items for your avatar, and it's coinciding progress.

birthdays beginning capture screen

Back out in Macro mode things are a bit simpler, but just as influential as what you do in the Micro view. As I mentioned earlier the Macro Mode acts as a means to start the progress of time, or speed it up to boost your life giving efforts. By pressing "L1" you can start the cube years, and by pressing "L2" you can speed them up. According to what you did prior to entering Macro the changes will be reflected in kind in an action and reaction manner within the Birthdays stats menu which showcases the life, and sometimes extinction of species via population numbers. One thing I forgot to mention is that activities within the Macro, and Micro modes are governed by your avatar's HP. You'll need HP to alter elevations in Micro mode, and will need the same HP to speed up time in Macro mode. Should you run out of HP in Micro mode you can return to Macro mode, and refill said HP with a 'L1' cube years startup. You can also use special leaf items to refill your avatar's HP in either mode via the item menu. By creating life, and managing it properly you will witness birthdays, capture said birthdays, and level up your HP through the gained EXP. Hopefully getting you back to your own home, and time at some point.

birthdays beginning dinosaur challenge

Along with your progress in the main game comes a "Challenge" mode, or "Dinosaur Challenge" which is also made accessible at the title screen. In the given challenges you'll be tasked with creating an environment that will give birth to a specific dinosaur. The challenges are ranked by star (aka, difficulty), and list an HP/EXP requirement for the challenge at hand. The usual stat details are disclosed in the birthday listing of the dinosaur to give you a hint as to how to go about birthing the dinosaur in question. It definitely lives up to it's name as it is a challenge to create a dinosaur in the world of "Birthdays the Beginnings". For those of you looking for a "Free Play" mode this game does have that as well. It functions in the same base ways as the story mode and challenges, but without the rules, and chapter clearing requirements. You start off with a small plot of land (cube world), and can create to your heart's content. The land will gradually grow larger the more you gift birthdays to new creatures, evolve it's already existing inhabitants, and grow their populations. I personally feel the "Free Play" mode will be the mode most people will spend their time in as it will be less demanding, and more casual.

The Presentation ...

For some reason 'Pikmin' kept coming to mind when I thought of this game. That, and 'The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time'. The visual and audio presentation of the two main characters involved are definitely reminiscent of certain characters from such games, if slightly so. Navi for example acts much like Link's fairy friend. Your avatar on the other hand looks oddly like a Pikmin on a minor level. They are something I'd have imagined would be in a Nintendo exclusive due to their visual design. As far as graphics go the presentation is highly polished yet cute, and simple. The views in which you see the cube world are vividly colored, lightly animated, and simplistically decorated with distinct 3D features. The outside of said view being a universe littered with stars, and colorful gas clouds. The character models throughout including the creatures you bring to life seem to be cell shaded, and very much like something you'd see from Nintendo's main team of developers. The sound coming from Navi is also very Nintendo-like. Dare I say it. Overall 'Birthdays the Beginning' gives off a pleasant vibe that is unique to it's offered experience despite the pointed out nods to other game creations. It's a game that's both child, and adult friendly. While the gameplay itself is deeply involved, and overlaid with various accessible menus, functions, and features it's not as cluttered as one might imagine. Navigating, and understanding both the Macro and Micro views is easily done.

The Verdict ...

While I liked "Birthdays the Beginning" I found myself struggling with the game on occasion due to my inability to fully understand what needed to be done. Often times in my playthrough I'd reach a point where something that seemed simple enough to do got so out of hand because of my actions that I'd have to start over from the beginning to get it right. I gave up on completing it several times, because of that frustration factor, but eventually made progress. In saying that the game didn't strike me as being a bad experience though. It's more so that I got lost in reading through the tutorial text, and paying attention to the detailed statistics readings. I do feel the process could have been explained a bit better instead of leaving so much guess work for the gamer. That having been said I think the guess work is a huge part of the game's charm. Being able to tinker around with the different environmental variables, and seeing the result come to fruition is enjoyable enough, and kind of educational at the same time. There's definitely a scientific, and mathematical side to the game. It's definitely one of those game experiences that will have you thinking things through.

With everything considered including the visual, and mechanical presentation as well as my own factored in frustration I'd be alright with giving this game a recommendation. It's not gonna be for everyone, but those who are into crafting games, and games that make you think might really enjoy this one. It's an experience that both young, and older gamers alike can get into. Birthdays the Beginning, will release on May 9th for the PS4 and Steam. The PS4 will be getting a physical release as well as a digital release. The price for the PS4 version is set at an affordable $39.99!!!

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