How often do you have liquor at 10 AM in the morning? If you’re a functioning member of society, chances are that it’s not often. But I’ve seen dozens of people pass through my restaurant with a heavy sigh and a tired look in their eyes during the morning hours and quietly order a beer, sometimes wine. I chuckle at the ridiculousness and repetition of the situation- drinking as soon as one steps into their workplace. People got to do what gets them through the day though. Sometimes that may be liquor. Other times it’s having a pretzel or hot dog for breakfast. Fried chicken twice a day? Yeah, that works too. In Vertigo Gaming’s Cook, Serve, Delicious, I’m no judge- just a cook.
Oh, and a business manager.
The developers of CSD (Cook, Serve, Delicious) bill it as “hardcore restaurant sim.” In a world where the only other restaurant sim I can think of off the top of my head is Diner Dash, I imagine there’s not a lot of competition for the title. That said, the “hardcore” descriptor isn’t quite accurate. When I think about sims whose core I would describe as hard, I imagine games like A-10C Warthog, where both depth and complexity are key design elements. CSD is more a sim for the contemporary era, where mobile games are rampant. But let’s drop the high-level abstractions and get into something more tangible.
Players in CSD are put into the role of someone who has just opened up a restaurant in an office tower filled with hungry patrons. By acting as both manager and cook, players earn money, upgrade their business and attempt to work their way from a one-star diner to a five-star destination. Gameplay is split into two stages: the cooking stage where fast finger reflexes and detailed multi-tasking are required, and the management stage where they spend money and arrange menus to create appeal.
The management stage is where players start out. Here, they can purchase new foods and equipment to make those foods, spend money on upgrading those foods to include new ingredients and charge more for them, select a menu, and buy upgrades for the restaurant. Some low level strategy is needed for menu selection. Food items have particular qualities to them that will either attract or drive customers away. A percentage named ‘buzz’ shows how appealing your restaurant is, and is affected by food choices. The smell of corn dogs drives people away in the morning and won’t be ordered as full meals, but are extremely easy to make. Salads consist of lots of ingredients and are harder to make, but are a perennial item that people won’t get bored of. Also, beer. People love beer. At all hours of the day, apparently, though including liquor makes your establishment a little shady and drops buzz. Upgrades to the restaurant include a dishwashing machine, an air conditions which makes patrons more patient, and a ‘No Guns’ sign that deters robbers. Because yeah, that’s a thing that happens.
The management side of things never felt deep. The small, incremental upgrades weren’t interesting nor were restaurant ones, aside from the few chuckles they provided with their flavor text. Aside from juggling the menu and affecting the buzz rating, the only other interesting part of the stage was shifting through the virtual e-mail box. While the box serves to notify players of how well they did during the work day, it also acts as a repository of fictional characters that are never met in-game. I enjoyed looking at tower-wide letters regarding vehicles and bathrooms. Some characters even send bets, where they challenge players to accomplish tasks with certain limitations, like serving 10 perfect orders in a row while having soup on the menu. There’s even a straight up job at Phil Fish and the Polytron team’s refusal to patch their game. It was an odd little thing that often served to amuse me. There’s also a purchasable spam filter, but why ruin the authentic e-mail experience?
The cooking stage is easily where I had the most fun. Here, the game moves to twitch based gameplay that feels like the natural evolution of Tapper and Diner Dash, where balancing spinning plates is an apt comparison. Players enter a workday that lasts around seven minutes (depending on stragglers) where they earn money by fulfilling orders. A queue on the left side of the screen indicates which orders are active and can be done in whatever sequence players choose, though customers will eventually leave if they aren’t served. Orders are completed by frantically pressing a series of on-screen buttons that add ingredients according to specific instructions given by customers. While the cooking can be done through using the mouse on the UI’s buttons, the keyboard offers a faster alternative. Using letter shortcuts, players are able to move through a workday without having once touched the mouse. This was my preferred mode of interaction as the cooking gameplay seems built for moments of zen as my hand quickly moved across the keyboard and completed orders.
In addition, tasks such as setting rat traps, taking out the garbage, and cleaning dishes pop up as well. Nothing quite compared to those wonderful moments when muscle memory kicks in when certain orders come up, giving me the ability to pour beer with perfect froth with no spills or quickly cut and season fish with ease. As my opening paragraph indicated, there’s also a certain joy in deriving stories from repeat customers and their ordering habits.
One last thing to note is how the game feels very much like a mobile game, which may be distasteful to some. It’s not just the finger friendly UI (the game’s keyboard controls are amazing and preferable), but the compact nature of everything. The cooking stages are high intensity, but always in short bursts. The management side isn’t deep and has a lot of small, incremental upgrades that I feel are going to ask me if I want to buy premium currency to quicken my progress. To fully enjoy the game, I had to stretch out my experience of it lest it end up being cloying.
With a shallow business management aspect and mechanics that while highly enjoyable don’t vary much throughout the game, Cook, Serve, Delicious, is less a meal and more a snack that’s purchased in bulk. The gameplay is engaging and the way it taps into intuitive movement is wonderful, but its best consumed in small bits instead of one heap.
+ Cooking gameplay is fast and engaging
+ Quality flavor text
+ Morning beer
– Morning corn dog
– Shallow management sim
– Mobile design style may be off putting to some
7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.
Cook, Serve, Delicious was published and developed by Vertigo Gaming. It’s available for $8.95 from developer’s site here. A copy of the game was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.