Chinese Parents Nintendo Switch Review

They play you around, your mum and dad.

Despite being one of the largest global markets for games right now, it’s still rare to find games from China breaking out into the international market. Even a giant like Tencent is mostly know for having its fingers in the pies of Western studios like Epic and Riot.

So Chinese Parents is something of a phenomenon. This casual indie game became a bestseller when it launched on Steam back in 2018, despite only being available in the Chinese language. What I hadn’t realised was that publisher Coconut Island Games did later release an English version, better yet, it’s now available on the even more accessible Nintendo Switch, which makes it the perfect time to find out what the fuss is all about.

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Chinese Parents is a child-raising life sim that has you determining the fate and fortune of a sprog right from the moment they’re born. Once their gender is revealed and you can name them – I had a girl so named her after my niece, Faith – you’ll shape their lives across 48 turns that takes them from infancy all the way to senior high school, culminating in the ‘Gaokao’, China’s notorious equivalent to the SATs in the US or A-levels in the UK.

For each turn, shaping your kid is split into two main areas. There’s the mind map t resembling a match-3 type mini-game where you tap different colour fragments on a board to raise your kid’s stats – IQ, EQ, Constitution, Imagination, Memory. Fragments along with knowledge points that are required to unlock new studying activities in your kid’s development.

Those resources then feed into your schedule for that turn, as you assign a set number of activities for your kid split between entertainment and studies. It soon becomes apparent that you need to balance these activities, as too much leisure time will erode your parents’ satisfaction with you while studying non-stop will send your stress levels into overdrive.

Despite the game playing on the tiger parent stereotype, Chinese Parents is a fairly forgiving game, even if failure regularly comes during those mock exams, which you often feel inadequately equipped for. Its casual mobile visual novel aesthetics along with a pretty relaxed soundtrack makes it an accessible sim for anyone to play.  The mind map mini-game is especially simple and satisfying whether you purposely pick the stat boosts you need or pop fragments to better reveal the rest of the board, and even if you do flunk your exams, you’ll still carry on progressing to the next stage of your kid’s life. An expanding shadow on your kid can trigger a game over, but it’s pretty hard for this to actually happen.

Your choices do get frankly overwhelming, with each turn unlocking more activities or goals to aim for. Naturally, some become obsolete over time – you’re not still going to go sliding in the park or learning basic algebra as a senior high schooler – but with the limited slots on your schedule it’s quickly apparent you can’t become the class president, star jock, musical prodigy, literary genius and the popular kid at the same time.

Meanwhile, you’ll also regularly encounter dozens of random events that have their own mini-games or mini-choices that can affect your personal development. A couple personal highlights are ones that are related to Chinese concepts, such as ‘face’, which kind of determines your sense of standing for both yourself and your parents, which in turn affects how easy it is to gain a favour from them later. This also leads to the hilarious ‘Face Duels’, a kind of turn-based RPG battle where your mum shows off your achievements to get one over on a rival relative and neighbour.

My favourite comes during a Chinese lunar new year when your aunt offers you a lucky red packet with money, during which you need to mash the button to push the envelope away so as to not make your parents ‘lose face’ by accepting it too eagerly, but not mash too much and actually reject your aunt’s gift, therefore making her ‘lose face’. It’s both absurd and spot-on as I recall how my mum used to tell me not to accept money from my gran but then give in anyway, even though I obviously wanted the cash to fund my gaming habits.

Naturally, things get more interesting the older your kid gets. Once you’re also balancing your studies with friendships, and potential romances, it’s almost like you’re playing the social elements of the Persona games. If there are issues, it’s that the localisation is occasionally a bit rough around the edges – one mini-game revolving around a talent show contest had conditions that can only be described as a nonsensical word salad – while certain dialogue and scenarios also frequently get rehashed between different people.

I’m also not all that sure how meaningful my choices were in shaping my kid. While there are certain expectations placed on you by your parents, which you’re given a limited number of turns to fulfil, not meeting them doesn’t seem to penalise you significantly. Meanwhile, as I wanted Faith to pursue an ambition as a ‘literary giant’, this seemed to have no bearing on her flunking the gaokao, as the endgame summary still showed her somehow becoming a bestselling author anyway.

It’s definitely something you can explore further as you can repeat the cycle after your first playthrough by getting married and having another kid, thereby passing your stats onto the next generation. Given how it only takes a few hours to get through 48 turns, those invested in the heartwarming charm of Chinese Parents will easily find themselves advancing generations down the line in the hopes of finding greater prosperity for their descendants.

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Summary
Amid its gentle but affectionate satire of Chinese norms and customs, Chinese Parents is an accessible and engaging life sim that should resonate with just about anyone who’s gone through childhood and adolescence. Even if you fail, you’ll still have a good time.
Good
  • Nice cutesy visuals and accessible controls
  • Its gentle satire of Chinese customs feels spot on and relatable
  • Very replayable as you carry stats onto the next generation
  • Some very amusing mini-games
Bad
  • Doing well in exams is actually hard
  • Patchy localisation in places
8