As a parent, Baby Storm feels all too real. It has a simple concept: what if Overcooked! was less concerned about making dishes, and more focused on childcare? It’s such a simple premise that we wonder why it hasn’t been done before: kids are unruly, random little demons, and supplying their needs can be just as frantic as making meals against a time limit, if not more so.
And that’s just parenting. What if you multiply those kids? Now you’re in charge of a crèche, and you’re multi-tasking with several pooping, crying, self-centred little oiks. Honestly, we don’t know how pre-school assistants do it. It’s like a waking nightmare.
Each level of Baby Storm has you waiting in the crèche as four or five kids bash at the door. It’s like the scene in Fellowship of the Ring where the cave troll is approaching. It’s the quiet before the storm. Then they’re in, wild-eyed like rabbids, demanding things from you. Thought bubbles appear above their heads, demanding toys, sleep, nappy changes and more. Those bubbles have ticking timers, so you have a limited period before they start crying or fighting each other. The best plan is just to keep them happy.
That’s easier said than done, as the demands are at odds with each other. A kid wants a cuddly toy that another one is holding. Another kid wants you to play, bouncing a beach ball between you, but that takes time when other kids have lower maintenance needs. You can have four simultaneous requests, yet the floor is covered in literal poo, making it a tough decision between basic hygiene and the prospect of complete anarchy descending.
Everything is done manually. If a kid needs a nappy change then you’re picking them up, carrying them to a changing station, and then shuttling to a storage cupboard for wipes or nappies. Some tasks have minigames attached, as you manage a power-bar on the swings, or follow beach balls as the tyke throws them. But everything is on you and up to three friends. You’re serving everyone’s needs by running about like a loon.
Baby Storm is, for our money, more frantic than Overcooked!. There’s more of a feeling that compromises are needed; that you’re not going to get everything done. We let the poo pile up, for example. Nobody seems too bothered about the accumulating faeces, and we could cross our fingers that a few seconds would remain before home-time to whack out the roomba. If not, then hey: at least we tried.
Baby Storm has less chill when it comes to new stuff. Every level comes with at least one new addition to master and learn. Suddenly, you’re dealing with catapults, teleport devices, and wizards that switch stuff around. It never seems to stop, and borders on the overwhelming. If you’re playing with friends who drop in and out, they might want to think again, as they will constantly bump their heads against things that were tutorialised a few levels ago.
In multiplayer, it’s a frantic, bonkers mess, and we mean that entirely positively. You soon get used to roles (we named these ourselves, so feel free to choose others). The Cleaner keeps hold of the roomba and follows behind everyone, mopping up effluence and food splats wherever they appear. The Nappy Enabler keeps a steady supply of nappies and wipes stocked near the changing stations. And The Toy Master keeps an eye on all the toys, so that when someone screams “where’s the llama!?”, they have pinpoint accuracy in finding it. The organisation is essential. If you slack off, the problems snowball and the snow is most definitely yellow.
We had a great time in multiplayer. You find yourself saying ridiculous things like “has anyone got the maracas?” and “we need a roomba for the poop by the bookcase”. Everyone gets deadly serious and organised, and it’s only when you stop to take stock that you realise you’re well-oiled baby entertainers.
In single player it’s less fun. That’s to be expected for the genre, but Baby Storm also doesn’t seem to scale down to single player particularly well. We never once got a gold medal, and barely ever got a silver, simply because it’s overwhelming on your own. The requests didn’t seem to decrease in number either. We got the impression that Baby Storm was made for four-player first, and everyone else can be damned.
In single player, the issues stand out a bit. That’s probably because mistakes hurt you that little bit more. Our biggest bugbear was with dirty nappies. Baby Storm dearly wants you to stack them up in your hands – you can carry multiple of one item – but it uses the same button to pick up a nappy as drop them. We would stack up a dozen filled nappies, painstakingly gathering each one, only to drop them all by mispressing the button. They don’t drop in a neat pile: they scatter to the shitty winds.
Almost all the issues fit this category of ‘not quite doing what you hoped to do’. The kids love to ransack the nappy cupboard and spread nappies and wipes around the floor. We suspect the designers loved this as it creates chaos. But when you are picking up and dropping nappies accidentally when you instead want to grab a baby, it gets a little on the annoying side. Precisely picking up or operating something is not something you can do in Baby Storm. Often it’s fumbling and hoping.
Then there’s legibility. It doesn’t take long for your childcare area to become an utter mess. But we found that items get lost in the junk: the beach ball in particular has a habit of getting squirrelled into corners and camouflaging with everything else. You don’t have time for a mini Where’s Wally? when you’re against the clock.
There’s frustration attached because the issues are so easy to solve. Keep the nappies in stacks, or let me hoover them up by holding a button. Put an outline around toys so I can see them easier. But you get the sense that the designers embraced the anarchy; that the awkwardness and brambles are half of the point. We understand the reasoning, but it feels like the priorities are skew-whiff. Baby Storm needed to feel slightly more precise before the complications got stacked on top.
While Baby Storm is undoubtedly flawed, it gets by through sheer exuberance. You can’t stay annoyed at its controls for long when you’re being swept along by yet another new gameplay mechanic, yet another fiendish level layout, and some of the most high tempo gameplay of any multi-tasking sim. Like the kids in Baby Storm, it refuses to sit still.
There’s not much point in playing Baby Storm solo, but if you’ve got three friends who thought Overcooked! was a little tame, then we can heartily recommend it. Just have someone on poop duty; things will run away from you if you don’t.