Brent A. Hopkins
In Casual Commitments, we explore the ups and downs of casual gaming.
Cooking is an art form and this game is the pepper grinder.
Today I will be reviewing Cook, Serve, Delicious!, another game that is available on mobile devices and then was recently ported to PC and released on Steam. It is a restaurant and time management simulation.
The premise of the game is the player taking the role of a chef who has taken over a former renowned restaurant that has gone from being a five-star pinnacle of culinary delight to a starless greasy spoon restaurant. As the chef in a newly revamped tower that houses your restaurant as well, you have to build your menu to mainly attract the tenants and reclaim the former five-star rating that was once held.
The game setup is split into two sections: one being the restaurant and the other being the management portion. The interfaces are both very clean and simple and there is a nice little tutorial to help the player become acclimated to the game. I will start off with the chef portion of the game as that is the games’ major selling point.
The restaurant that you run is owned and maintained solely by you. It opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. This means that over the course of a day you have to deal with all of the things that a real restaurant would have to handle, alone. The main job that you have is to handle customers’ orders. This works in a quick time event sort of way. The customer will come in and order something on your menu (I will explain the menu more later) this is assigned a number on the keyboard from 1 to however many order slots you have unlocked (I currently have 5). Once you acknowledge the customer you must finish their order. I will use one of the earliest and cheapest foods as an example, The Corn Dog.
The Corn Dog is simple but it can come in three ways: ketchup only, mustard only, or ketchup and mustard. The customer will come in and wait and when you acknowledge him or her they will say I want only mustard, for instance. The game has built in hot keys for each food on the menu so in this case ‘M’ is used for mustard on corndogs and then you press enter to serve the food. When the order has no mistakes you are given a rating from the customer. Rinse and repeat.
The rating system is how you are tracked throughout the day, with perfect orders giving you a chain which increases your restaurants’ “Buzz.” The higher the “buzz” the more people will come day-to-day. There are two other ratings you can get which are average and bad. Average doesn’t do anything but break your perfect streak, but bad orders hurt your “Buzz” and impact customers.
The other part of the restaurant section is the chores that you must do. These are all setup in the same interface as the food where they will show up as customers and you must choose and complete them quickly to keep customers happy. There are four chores to do: dishes, rat traps, toilet cleaning, and trash. These are all hot-keyed like the food menus, so once you memorize how to do them you can hit the keys without looking and complete them really quickly. The types of food you have on your menu affect what chores come up the most. When you have meals that require plates, you do dishes more. If you have fish, you deal with rats more. The chores become more of a slight inconvenience than a real problem.
The stress from the restaurant portion of the game is entirely rolled up in handling customers and chores quickly. When you have many things on your menu and they all take various amounts of preparation time it can become hard to juggle the steak orders with the ice cream orders. There is also rush hour to deal with, which hits at noon and 6 p.m., and this drastically increases the rate at which you have to deal with customers. Your fingers will have to fly to make sure you can keep your perfect scores up through them. The secret here is simply to memorize the keys for the foods on your menu so you can quickly read what the customer wants and bang it out without looking. Once you can do that the game is never really hard, with mistakes mainly stemming from fat fingers (in my case) hitting the wrong customer and effectively serving them too early.
The second part of the game is the management aspect. This takes place on a different menu and has a few parts to deal with. The parts you will use the most are the food menu and equipment menu. These are where you choose what food you serve day to day and also what equipment you will have available to you to enhance your cooking.
The food menu is really simple because all you have to do is save up enough money to buy an item and it is added to a pool of recipes that you know. Each food takes different types of preparation in the kitchen, and this would be hard to deal with without practice so the game allows you to practice before you have to suddenly make lasagna or nachos in an actual working day.
The menu itself is setup where you can only have a certain number of items to prepare each day. There is something called menu rot which forces you to take things off the menu after two days, or else people will refuse to order it because it is boring. To keep you from constantly having to rotate a wide variety of foods there are also staple items which you can keep on the menu every day to have some regularity in preparation.
The foods themselves are varied and tend to fall into culinary categories: American, Italian, Asian, Mexican, snacks, and drinks. These all can be upgraded which usually add more options for the customers to choose from, thus making the game harder. This is something that doesn’t really matter unless you’re going for achievements because there are never Mexican days or Italian days at the restaurant unless you choose to do that. The foods also have pluses and minuses attached to them that can increase the interest in them being ordered, cause them to require more cleaning, or even call for perfection when ordered. These are mildly important because the game still ticks along even if you are not min-maxing your food prices and buzz.
The other part of the post-work menu system is comprised of emails and events that you can partake in. The email system gives you updates about what customers will want on a rainy day, what new items are available to purchase, which foods you can upgrade, and so on. The most interesting thing I found here were the bets, dating, catering deals, and chef challenges. These all can increase your money and give you a reprieve from just going into ‘work’ every day. They aren’t that varied either, as they still take place in the kitchen but the best part about it is they give you mini-challenges to deal with for fun.
So those are the two portions of the game, now it is time for the problems. The game is fun… for a very short amount of time. It is obviously perfect for a casual phone or tablet game, but when it comes to a PC port it takes the will of Buddha and the wrists of Superman to play for lengthy amounts of time. I have been gaming for most of my life and I am no stranger to marathon sessions. This game, though, is the first to make me step away due to arm cramps from just rote typing and clicking.
Secondly, because the game is more about memory and speed than anything else, it doesn’t feel like it is skill-based once you have gotten a few of the high priced recipes down pat. Then you just find yourself grinding out days, rotating things off the menu occasionally, and never having hard recipes on your menu unless the game forces you to.
My final major gripe with this game is really simple: IT TAKES TOO LONG! The game starts you out with a zero-star restaurant and you have to fulfill certain requirements to get upgraded to a one-star restaurant. The requirements can be as easy as buy x amount of food for your menu to the slightly more difficult get x perfects on so many days. These are not a problem and help keep interest in the game, so I like them. My one problem is with the last requirement: serve 20 days in the restaurant at this rating. This is genuinely the one thing that makes me want to change all the keys on my keyboard to sandpaper and play by sliding my knuckles across the keys. There is nothing fun about finishing all of the requirements for your restaurant to be upgraded by day five and realizing that you have 15 more days to play with nothing to gain but money for equipment and upgrades. It is poorly paced and I find myself saying “Play ten days today then turn the game off so you keep your sanity.”
The game is sold as a restaurant simulation and that is not true in the least. You don’t have the full freedom of control that you would really want in a game like this, because you can’t make new recipes. You can’t customize the restaurant into serving a type of food and you can’t even manage your own restaurant look and feel, as the upgrades are all forced. I was really let down by this game because I was hoping to be a seller of fine deep-fried desserts and alcohols as a true Texan/Southern-bred foodie would and instead I found myself selling salads because I happened to memorize all of those ingredients quickly.
I give Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2 salt shakers out of 5 because the game is a great quick fix but falls flat when you realize you have to grind more than teenagers at a house party to get what you want.
Cook, Serve, Delicious! is produced by Vertigo Gaming.
Image source: Vertigo Gaming