Family holidays. They’re supposed to be fun, relaxing, and not even remotely stressful, right? I’ll wait for all the parents to stop laughing. According to Think of the Children, and adults everywhere, going on a family holiday is just about the most stressful task you could imagine. Not only must you get through airport security, but also ensure your child doesn’t get crushed by a vending machine.
Think of the Children is the first title by Jammed Up Studio, a new indie development team located in Brisbane, Australia. I managed to check out the Think of the Children beta back in September, and was impressed with how the game was shaping up, and now that it’s been released, I decided to dive back in and see how things have changed.
The inspiration from old-school couch-co-op party games is immediately obvious in Think of the Children. Booting up the Story mode or even the Arcade mode takes you to a screen that allows you to select how many players will be parenting, and if it isn’t already obvious the game wants you to play with friends, the following levels will quickly hammer that fact home.
I started up the Story mode as a single parent, and was greeted with a familiar scene – the park. I quickly got to setting up the picnic tables, cooking burgers, and setting up the piñata, all while trying to make sure the children didn’t get eaten by a fox or get taken away by the Child Protective Services. My attempts were in vain.
The final score card awarded me a “D-“ – I had let four out of six children die, and I hadn’t managed to complete all the tasks. Maybe parenting really is as hard as people say. A few attempts later and I was settling back into the general rhythm of picking up kids off the road, throwing them into the sandpit, and sprinting to put out a small fire on the barbecue. I walked away with four children and a barely acceptable C-.
After each succesful level clear is where Story mode works its magic. Typically, players can simply go to the Arcade mode where the levels can be unlocked and played one after the other, but only the Story mode offers a hilarious courtroom backdrop for my miserable attempts at parenting.
As it turns out, my character is currently in a bit of strife with the law about being, slightly, neglectful of his children. The prosecutor is there to make me pay, and probably take my children away (please, take the little devils), while the judge does his best to pay attention. Every scene offers countless moments of laughter as my character stammers through a response and incriminates himself further. It’s a beautiful way to tie together, and add a bit of body, to what is otherwise just a series of challenging tasks.
That’s not to say the levels aren’t enjoyable, because despite the sheer challenge involved with being a single parent, the places you’ll spend your time are gorgeously detailed and well thought-out. The aforementioned family holiday is set in an airport, where tasks must be completed in a certain order, from collecting and checking your baggage, stamping your passport, buying a stress reliever (read: alcohol), and making it through security. But as I said, the children are nothing but persistent in their desire to embarrass me or try and get themselves killed.
Juggling all these tasks is where the challenge comes in. You’ll want to ensure you finish all the shopping or socialize at the party, but you must also make sure dumb little Brad doesn’t suck on an electrical outlet or that Suzie doesn’t lock herself in a freezer. It creates moments of sheer panic where you’ll find yourself halfway between two children who are seconds away from dying and will be forced to decide which one is your favorite.
In order to help you parent the children a bit better, the game offers you numerous means of corralling kids and taking control of the situation. With a single press of the button, you will yell at your children, distracting them from whatever death-defying activity they’re doing and cause them to flock to you – provided you’re close enough. You can even pick them up and throw them, which is handy if you need to get them far away from the road. But most importantly, the age old adult trick of bribery. Set up the piñata for them to play with, or get them ice cream, and you’ll find yourself with just enough time to finish off a few tasks before they’re back at it breathing in sand and taste-testing the bleach.
After each level, you will be graded on your parenting skills, score high enough and you’ll be rewarded with a cosmetic item to customize your parent or children. Beyond that, every player receives a secondary report card with cute little quips about how they performed. Were you the hippy parents who didn’t yell or perhaps a bit of a “tosser” who did nothing but throw kids around in order to save them? It feels a lot like the Goldeneye post-game reports where every player was given a comment about how they fared during the match. It’s a nice touch that makes end of matches rewarding, no matter how well you played.
With twelve levels to unlock, and a hundred or so unlockables tied to each level, Think of the Children will have you coming back for more, even after you finish the story. And though it might be a bit too challenging to play solo, Think of the Children should be a requirement for every single party. It's the perfect way to see if someone is ready to be a parent. Note: I am not ready.