Imagine having a little chunk of world floating in space for you to sculpt and tend to and putter over, like your own personal space-garden. Imagine providing it with sunlight and water, building mountains and digging valleys, adding oceans and rivers, and creating the perfect environment for life to grow, beginning with simple water-based organisms and plants that eventually (hopefully) climb the evolutionary ladder and become land creatures like mammoths and dinosaurs.
Then imagine the mouse and keyboard controls were so frustrating and nonsensical that you stopped playing it before you had anything bigger than a trilobite and a few trees. That's basically where I'm at with Birthdays the Beginning. It's an ecosystem sandbox game developed by Yasuhiro Wada, creator of the Harvest Moon series, and it feels like it could be utterly enjoyable on PC if only the controls were even semi-decent. Tragically—and I really hope this will change in the near future—they're not.
There's a long tutorial in Birthdays the Beginning—I'd have to describe it as dreadfully long—that doesn't just teach you the game but provides a heap of backstory and conversation from a far-too-chatty helper named Navi, who has thus become my second least-favorite assistant named Navi in videogame history. You learn how to sculpt your starter world, add ponds and rivers, create oceans, and seed those waters with a tiny bit of life.
As you fast-forward time, pausing to dabble here and there by adding a little evolutionary pixie dust, you'll begin to see lifeforms appear. Water-based plants and critters arrive at first, but soon they'll begin creeping onto land. Grass and flowers grow, tiny water bugs evolve into slightly more advanced forms, and everything begins to slowly spread out over the world from their starting points, turning your blank, sandy cube into a chunky little planet. You can 'collect' these new plants and creatures, which will add little power-ups to the world that you can also collect: evolutionary boosts, tiny rainstorms, bursts of sunshine, frosty boulders. Placing these items around the map can help prime the environment for more creatures to evolve.
Essentially, you're playing God, but in this case God really needs a controller, because the mouse and keyboard controls are head-scratchingly terrible. Some examples:
- You can't use the mousewheel to zoom.
- You can zoom using the up and down arrow keys, but—
- You have to be holding X to do so.
- You can rotate by using the left and right arrows keys but—
- Not while you're holding down X!
- Holding down X renders the left and right arrow keys useless.
- You can't move around the map by moving the mouse but—
- You can move (slowly) by clicking a tile where you want to move to.
- Accidentally click the tile twice and it automatically edits the terrain.
- You can open a toolbar (with K, for some reason).
- If you click a tool with the mouse it will automatically use it, so:
- You have to cycle through your tools with F (?) and H (???).
It's just all very confusing and weird and tiresome, which is a darn shame. I love the idea of having a chunky little world to sprinkle life on and watch it grow and develop, but I really don't like using a controller for PC games, especially not a sandbox game like this, which feels like it should be made for use with a mouse and keyboard: rotating and panning the camera quickly, lunging to ground level with a spin of the mouse wheel for a close look at something before leaping back into heaven, and quickly navigating and moving your cursor around like you're scanning Google Maps for traffic snarls along your commute. Instead, you slowly plod and drift, moving around with arrow keys that only work, or don't work, if you're holding another key, and trying to remember if it's F or G or J or K to do something simple that would easily be accomplished with a mouse-click or two.
There have been some posts from the developer on the game's Steam page in regards to allowing players to remap the keys in the future, but it's not just a key-mapping issue. Birthdays the Beginning needs a more normal PC-based control scheme altogether. I'm not saying that like it's a snap to accomplish. I'm just saying that until it does happen, my little cube world isn't going to grow any further.