Live the life of the universe’s least powerful god.
The world simulation genre seems like a perfect fit for Switch. The nice high resolution screen, intuitive touch-based controls, and portability make it ideal for building civilizations on the go. Happy Birthdays is a simulation game that at a glance looks like a mix between Sim City and Spore. However, unlike either of those games, Happy Birthdays is a game about indirect management. Rather than constructing a civilization, the player is tasked with insuring the conditions within which life can flourish.
At the start you’re presented with a simple landscape, or even a barren rocky wasteland if you like your simulation games truly hardcore. From here the ground can be raised and lowered to sculpt your world as well as adding ocean and river sources. Doing this affects the temperature and moisture of the different parts of your world allowing different kinds of life to evolve. Unique plants and animals develop based on the prodigiousness or extinction of others. While at first I’d go to great lengths to set up my world perfectly to encourage the evolution of specific species, I quickly found that if I simply had a variety of terrains, life would find a way.
That natural result is that Happy Birthdays is a very hands-off simulation game. The only exception being the moment where you have to feed a monkey the fruit of knowledge in order for them to evolve into a human. It is a somewhat odd biblical reference in a game that is otherwise all about evolution. Then again I suppose you’re literally playing as a god. Ultimately Happy Birthdays tends to be pretty boring. Once you get life started it is both hard to mess it up or do anything to help it. You just watch it happen. While this is generally reassuring within the confines of our own existence, it doesn’t really make for a compelling gaming experience.
There is of course some fun to be had in the manipulation and sculpting of your world, but even this is littered with odd design choices. Your abilities are limited by your HP. Every time you move a grid of terrain up or down you lose a bit of health. This health can only be regained by moving time forward and allowing life to play out. However, you have so much health that rarely did I ever make enough changes to come anywhere close to running out, and when I did I didn’t feel like it made any difference having to fast forward before making more changes. I have no idea why this limitation is in place as it seems to serve no purpose in the actual gameplay.
All of this being said, Happy Birthdays does run well both portably and docked. Zooming in on your world and seeing little cities sprouting up with modern humans somehow managing to coexist alongside dinosaurs is certainly charming. It is not that Happy Birthdays is a bad game as its premise is certainly interesting. Unfortunately it is ultimately too shallow, an experience that requires little intervention from the player. If you can entertain yourself the monotony of raising and lowering land to perfectly facilitate your perfect breed of mouse, then perhaps you’ll find something to enjoy in Happy Birthdays.