PC: Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Who’s up for round 2 of cheesy casual games celebration?

I have a weakness for cooking games. Call it a fascination with food porn (I love watching the Food Network and browsing random food blogs like Food52, Serious Eats or Chowhound) married with the love of a good meal and the conviction that one should know how to cook good food or be hopelessly stranded at the whims of someone else’s kitchen controlling fancy. I’m always deeply amused by how accurately (or not) various games simulate the cooking process.

(Don’t get me started on GW2’s cooking craft profession. It’s evident someone who knows how to cook had a hand in designing which things went in each recipe, and the food/ingredient nesting has blown my mind and my alt’s inventory. I’ve yet to cross 75 in cooking still. I don’t dare to, until my other alts have eaten away some of the products.)

Toss in a good mix of frenetic arcade fun and multitasking juggling, and cooking games are perfect for bite-sized portions of gaming. (Pun very much intended.)

Cheesy as they are, I’ve played games like Cooking Mama on the Nintendo DS, amused by the use of the stylus and blowing feature to simulate various kitchen activities, as well as Burger Island, a more repetitive arcade game of arranging ingredients as quickly as possible. I’ve played stuff like Restaurant Empire and Diner Dash, which are more games to do with restaurant seating and arrangement of customers than cooking. And countless cooking-based Flash games whose names are now lost to bad memory but have themes like sushi, pizza and so on.

Typically, most cooking games let you click on various ingredients to arrange them according to a recipe or a picture, potentially processing them through some simulated cooking technique involving keypresses or mouse clicks, before serving to a customer. Repeat as fast as possible to make money. Spanners are thrown in the works when different foods require different prep times, various customers have different patience levels and so on.

Well, Cook, Serve, Delicious! from Vertigo Gaming is a cooking game on steroids.

It’s based on two free games from the same developers, Ore no Ryomi 1 & 2, but appears to have a lot better visuals and polish. (Call me picky, but I don’t enjoy my games with stomach-churning ugly images out of the EGA era. Give me stuff that looks decently pretty, or give me plain text and ASCII, not pixelated non-art.)

I especially appreciate the control scheme, which primarily makes use of the keyboard. (There is a mouse control option but honestly, and MMO players should know this, keyboard shortcuts > mouse clicking in general.)

This enables Cook, Serve, Delicious to venture into a deeper complexity than most cooking games dare to go, and have it start emulating typing games, or even, the complex keypress patterns / muscle memory of Starcraft build orders. The developers call this ‘hardcore.’

Me, I’m not sure I’ll go that far, but I’d compare it quite favorably to something on the same level as Plants vs Zombies.

Both  games look cute and casual and have relatively pleasing cartoony art. They’re easy enough to get into and play. But there’s also enough here to keep adults occupied for a decent amount of gameplay time.

For example, here’s one of the simplest foods, a corn dog. The keypress pattern is 1-5 for the customer, then K and/or M for ketchup or mustard, depending on the order below (speed reading is important here). Then Enter to serve.

Not too difficult. Customers stop being interested in it by the time you hit 2 star restaurant level, so you’ll have to graduate from it eventually to something more complicated…

How about the salad? In this case, V, C, O, B and M, before Enter. Customers order an extremely varied amount of toppings for this dish – just greens and carrots, ranch and cheese, thousand island and the works, etc. One is kept on one’s toes.

I’m tickled by lasagna, which simulates building the layers very well. The simplest lasagna involves typing P S C R three times, hearing each layer thud down with a meaty slap with each keypress, before hitting Enter to cook (a wait time) before serving. More tricky lasagna like the above involves incorporating meat into two layers, so it is P S M C R, P S M C R, and finally P S C R for the last layer.

Different foods are prepared in different ways. Steak and chicken involve keeping in mind the number of keypresses you just made as it doesn’t show you how many times you’ve added the seasoning.  Soup is an extreme pain, with two pages of ingredients – with keys not exactly tying too well to the ingredient name – and chopping involved.

There’s a decent selection of food (to be prepared and cooked in various ways) that can be bought and upgraded, and a little strategy section involving ‘restaurant management’ before each arcade game day. One can pick various foods to be used in the active menu for the day. This affects the amount of “Buzz” your restaurant has, and the number of customers visiting per day.

Quite a complex selection of factors affect buzz, from the weather, the time of day and the foods you’ve picked that suit the various times. Liquor creates negative buzz (as you’re ostensibly in an office tower. It’s amusing to see how many pop in for a 10am pint of beer) but is profitable and quick to prepare.

Food can be healthy and create a positive health-food buzz, or conversely be full of fat and create negative fatty food buzz. Ironically, the deep fry foods are among the quickest and easiest items to prepare.

On some days, you may want quick and easy items to prepare, in order to deal with sanitation inspectors who pop in for spot checks and make sure you deal with chores like washing dishes, taking out the trash and yes, flushing/cleaning toilets (for customers evidently too lazy to do it themselves.) Or to make it easy on yourself when you want to win bets from some guy who offers you challenges via email.

If there’s one criticism I have about this game, it’s that progression seems a little slow. Moving up to a one star restaurant involves completing 20 days, among other challenges. I was done with all of the rest by day 13 or 14, and had to plod patiently through seven more days.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game though. Around half of the more complicated food has yet to be unlocked, three quarters are still not upgraded. There seem to be a few more extra events later on, such as catering events and possibly some manner of iron chef tournament.

It’s currently selling for $8.95 on the developers’ website, and is also available on Desura and Gamersgate. It’s sitting in Steam Greenlight at the moment, and is one of the few games I’ve bothered to log in and upvote.

If you ask me, it’s a mite overpriced for 9 bucks – thanks to Steam spoiling me, I’m a firm believer in casual games being priced at $2-$5 – but I was able to convince myself to pick it up as part of Vertigo Gaming’s $15 bundle for six games – including CSD and Oil Blue.

I’m quite happy to pay roughly $3.50 for those two games, and $2 for the other games in that bundle to try them out. At that price, it’s a steal.

Try it yourself, there’s a downloadable demo which sold me on its merits.