PAX West 2017: Think of the Children as They Die Stupid Deaths

As I rapidly approach middle age, a common question I receive is whether or not I have kids. I don’t and I have no use for them. The wife and I have this thing about having disposable income and being able to sleep through the night. It’s a quirk. The cats fulfill our unwanted vomit quota handily as well. Then a game like Jammed Up Studios’ Think of the Children comes along that makes me rethink the idea of going childless. The conclusion reached: “I wonder if there is a Groupon for a vasectomy….”

Think of the Children puts up to four players together in a cooperative/competitive series of matches all taking place on one screen. The idea is to perform basic tasks like setting up a picnic table or go grocery shopping while preventing a gaggle of suicidal demon children from ending up kidnapped or dead. The first match I played was at a picnic. We had to cook barbeques, prevent the grills from exploding, set tables, and more while the children attempted to drown themselves, pester child protective services, and play in the streets. With six of the boogers running around, the warning icon indicating an imminent demise popped up quite frequently while grills flamed out. A fellow player and I would be constantly running to grab a kid and hammer throw them to brief safety. We lost one to the road.

Another took place on a beach, with sandcastles needing built, another grill, and grandpa going aflame should he not receive continual applications of sunscreen. This is also when I noticed that the grim sense of humor runs deeper than the concept itself. I witnessed a child’s flesh picked clean off of his skeleton by gulls while another was dragged off to sea by sharks. This sounds darker than Carlos Mencia’s creative light, but it’s pulled off in such a whimsical fashion, one can’t help but to laugh. The sound designer had fun with it too. Witness the chilling audio when a kid locks himself in a freezer to understand that it’s likely the entirety of Jammed Up Studios probably has a book of dead baby jokes and can pull off telling them without seeming grotesque.

At its core, Think of the Children is built as a party game, drawing inspiration from titles like Overcooked. For this purpose, it should work quite well. At the end of each level, the score is tallied up for the team, with each player receiving their own report card. Getting a high amount of rescues will be called out. So will showing favoritism towards one child. This is where the competitive stuff comes in. It’s not enough to finish the stage with a great score, the other parents must be shamed for being the neglectful deadbeats that they are.

Based on the demo, I wouldn’t state that Think of the Children is a mechanically deep game. It’s a fun game, though, that will probably see some heated discussions emerge after a flubbed stage. The developer has promised that the stages I saw were of the more mundane variety. Apparently, it gets weirder, with alien abductions and the like entering the mix. I’m guessing that I’ll see more than one child explode in the vacuum of space while I’m laughing my fool head off. Because I think I am a deviant in the same manner as this developer.