Meet Blob. Blob is 10 months old, has hair like Elvis and is dressed up like a cow. He eats stewed beef, mashed apples and oat cereal and he’s learning all about colours. He likes playing patty cake and loves to be tickled. He needs to be cleaned a lot and if you don’t pay him any attention he starts to cry. I think that’s everything you need to know… oh yes, I almost forgot. He scares the hell out of me.
Blob’s the result of the latest virtual gaming experience being offered to consumers who haven’t yet had their fill after having cared for dogs, cats, horses and the rest. The only surprise here really is that it’s taken so long for developers to catch on to virtual parenting.
Baby Pals starts with you ‘adopting’ your own baby (you can choose the sex, colour and… size). Then, from the age of six months, you raise it as your own. This is where the first sign of creepiness hits in. Like some kind of genetic monster, you can design how big your baby’s face and torso are, as well as the size and shape of its eyes. It’s a mildly disturbing experience and is a suitable warning for what’s to come.
Looking after your baby basically involves keeping on top of six key functions: sleeping, eating, teaching, playing, cleaning and shopping for items and clothes. If the baby needs attention in one of these areas, a status bar relating to that function creeps slowly towards a red warning colour. No worry though as catering for each activity is staggeringly simple, involving touching a few items on screen. If only real parenting were this simple. For example, to play with your baby you simply click on your toy of choice and waggle it in front of your insufferable sprog. Fun fun fun.
Most activities go along these lines with a prod here and a rub there saving the day. The only two functions requiring anything approaching any kind of thought are feeding (like a more basic Cooking Mama) and teaching (various mini games such as placing coloured blocks in a pot).
As this is clearly aimed at the younger gamer I can accept that it would make little sense for things to be too overcomplicated. That doesn’t excuse how horrendously repetitive gameplay is though. Once you’ve fed and played with the little sod a few times, you’ll quickly be anxious to put it to bed and have a break from it all. No such luck though as while putting baby to bed is simple enough – via quite a clever game where you need to guide some sheep safely across the screen – it’s a fruitless affair. As soon as you’ve successfully got your child to sleep it instantly jumps back awake. Scary stuff.
Putting the inane gameplay to one side however, the very worst thing about Baby Pals is that, unlike the other DS baby sim Imagine: Babyz, developer Crave Entertainment has opted with the questionable decision of making its virtual babies look realistic. Naturally, it doesn’t work with the resulting monstrosities scarier than a weekend with messers Krueger and Voorhees. From the dead eyes constantly staring into your soul to the freakish hand movements and gaping mouths, these virtual creations are a massive misstep for the game, making it one of the creepiest gaming experiences I’ve had since I first picked up Resident Evil way back when.Baby Pals is one of the oddest titles you’ll see this year and one which the younger gamers it’s aimed at will bore of very quickly. That is if they haven’t already hidden it beneath a floorboard somewhere to keep it safely out of mind.