Think of the Children is somewhat more frustrating than it needs to be. The game is penned as a game that can be played either alone or with other players, but don’t be entirely fooled by the former, because if anything, playing solo will likely only serve to annoy you. I’ve run the game through up until the last level as a solo player and in co-op, and let me tell you, the latter is the best way to enjoy. Though even so, I’m not suggesting that Think of the Children is a great game, because it’s not. It’s enjoyably for sure, but overall, this is merely an okay experience, at best.
Think of the Children is described as a frantic co-op parenting simulator, and for that reason alone, is exactly why this is best played with others. Parenting is never easy. You quite literally need eyes in the back of you head every second of the day when you’re taking on one of hardest jobs in the planet. Think of the Children plays on that very aspect, with a somewhat tongue in cheek vibe and an over the top sense of humor. By and large, for the most part, this game takes the responsibilities of parenting, and throws it to the next level.
What I’m trying to say is that if you’re not a fan of games that will have you constantly multitasking, Think of the Children is probably not for you. Booting up the game greets you with a clean and concise menu, presenting you with a handful of options; Story, Party Mode and My Family. My Family is where you can go to create your own parents and children, using a range of different cosmetic outfits that you will unlock as a reward for doing well across the game’s small pool of different levels. To the game’s credit, there’s a lot to unlock and earn.
Depending on how well you do in each level, will determine what level ranking you get at the end, ranging F- grade through to A+ grade. The rewards that you can earn will be locked to specific grades, presented to you at the conclusion of each level via a slot machine-like draw. The game can be played locally with up to three other players, though as alluded to above, you’re going to want at least one other person with you if you want an easier ride. I managed to make it near to the end alone, but hit an overly difficult barrier that seems impossible to overcome.
I’m not saying that it is indeed impossible, but after plugging in an hour into a ninety second timed level and failing miserably each time, whilst using a range of different tactics, isn’t at all fun. I cant see how one can be expected to achieve its desired result. Though, perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves so let’s take this from the top. The main difference between the game’s story mode and its party mode is that in party mode, you’re able to run each level without needing to unlock the next, that, and it’s free from its CPS-central story elements.
In story mode, you need to start with the tutorial level and work your way through the proceeding twelve levels, one at a time. There’s a light story thrown into the mix that sees you sat in front of a judge and jury between levels, trying to justify your actions as a parent that’s allowed harm to come to their children, but in all honesty, it’s not a very interesting affair. There’s some slight bits of humor that manages to hit the right mark on the odd occasion, but when all is said and done, you’ll write this off as silly filler that’s easy to forget.
Each level takes place across an interesting selection of different backdrops and scenarios; shopping, parks, parties, the outback, skydiving, and more. Though, the general crux of play remains the same regardless as to what level you find yourselves on. In Think of the Children, you’re not in charge of just one child, but six. Yes, you read that correctly, six toddlers – it appears as though these parents enjoy quiet time. When starting up a level, you’re given a brief summary of your objectives, all of which is charted on a checklist in the corner of the screen.
On some levels, this checklist will vary so that you cant repeat the same pattern over and over and memorize objectives, whereas on other levels, it’s a static checklist. The aim of the game is to fulfill this checklist whilst keeping your children in line. To do so, you’ll frantically bob and weave around each single-screen level, keeping your children away from harm and completing said objectives. There’s a timer present throughout each level, and it’s your job to ensure that your shit is in order and you’re children are alive by the time the timer hits zero.
Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! This is why it’s so hard and frustrating to play solo. Your character doesn’t have quick default movement and although you can indeed reach each side of the screen relatively quickly, it becomes a tedious task trying to do so when each of your six children stroll off in different directions to engage with anything and everything that wants to kill them. It becomes somewhat impossible to keep all of them alive at the same time as working on your checklist in some cases, throwing the game’s balance into question.
Take, for instance, the beach level. Here, I had to build a sandcastle, rub sun-lotion on my other half, tend to a BBQ, setup three sets of towels and three sets of umbrellas, and grab some ice cream. Granted, it takes little more than rapidly tapping the A button to achieve each goal, but doing so whilst three of my children are at the mercy of a shark, whilst the other three are either getting killed by jellyfish, seagulls or sand, is far too much multitasking for one player. It’s doable, by a margin, but it’s not at all fun when you’re on attempt #25.
The same can be said about any other level in the game. There’s just far too much legwork for the single player to keep on top of at the same time as chasing a decent rank (you need at least a C- rank to progress). Whether my children were drinking bleach in the shops, attracting the attention of a crocodile in the outback, or even dancing in front of traffic, the game always expected me to solve the impossible. Mostly due to it typically throwing equally as pressing scenarios on the direct opposite side of the screen at the same time.
Oftentimes there’s little to no time to save multiple children in danger, making for a game much less about multitasking, and much more about saving who you have time save. Throw in more players and this issue is somewhat alleviated. There’s a much more realistic difficulty curve when playing with others, and that’s when Think of the Children shines at its brightest. Still, even then, it’s not shining that brightly that I’d advise you rush out and pick it up, it’s just a more fluid, mildly entertaining experience in comparison to playing all on your lonesome.
Managing tasks with other players becomes more much achievable, and as a result, more engaging. Having one player rounding up the children whilst the other fulfills the game’s tasks is still challenging, indeed, but actually feeling as though you can realistically accomplish its demands, excels the game to heights that playing alone will never reach. I really wanted to like Think of the Children more than I did, but what we have here is a dance on the edge of a blade. If you enjoy the concept, you’ll likely pull more from this than I did.
I don’t want to pull the game down too harshly because there’s certainly some fun and excitement to be had here, it’s just a shame that all of that seems exclusive to playing with others due to the lack of difficulty balance. On the visual and audio front, Think of the Children ticks the boxes that it needed to. It’s colorful, diverse and its altering level design keeps things fairly interesting. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it gets a pass nonetheless. The same can be said about the game’s soundtrack and it’s audio cues.
Think of the Children’s main drawback is that it utterly lacks any form of balance as far as its difficulty is concerned. The problem this creates is that when playing solo, you’re required to fulfill seemingly impossible objectives through large quantities of frustrating multitasking. The game does indeed shine much brighter with other players helping out, but not quite enough to justify an easy recommendation.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.