Cook, Serve, Delicious! PC Developed by Vertigo Gaming Released in 2013
Ruling countries, fight wars, go on epic adventures, these are all things that games simulate because few of us have the opportunity to do those activities in our daily lives, and in some of those cases we are probably grateful for that. I appreciate not having to fight any dragons on my way to the train station and I am certainly happy to live in a relatively safe country, but one profession games simulate I would like to get better at in real life is cooking. I am a terrible cook; not to the degree that everything I touch burns, but I certainly don’t have the skill to put together a decent meal every day. Fortunately, there are games like Cook, Serve, Delicious! where I can at least pretend that people enjoy my hamburgers.
Will cook anything for employment
We don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on story here. You are a bloke with amazing cooking skills that has come to a large skyscraper to revive a once prestigious restaurant that was part of it. You begin at the very bottom, running what amounts to a raunchy snackbar that occasionally sells perplexingly high-class dishes like tenderized chicken breast, and through your hard work and passion you earn your restaurant some stars. You can get more story out of it by paying attention to the many emails you get, but it’s really not that important.
The gameplay most definitely is, though. In Cook, Serve, Delicious you buy recipes for dishes, put them in the limited amount of slots you have on your menu, then start a workday at your restaurant. Customers that come in will put orders on your queue that you then pick up. To make the food you perform actions that are kind of like a quick-time event, where you add the ingredients or perform actions by pressing the right buttons. Guy wants two pieces of cheese on his hamburger? Hammer the C key twice! that kind of stuff.
That may sound easy, but each dish has different ingredients mapped to different keys, and oftentimes requires a different kind of preparation for it to be served. Fish you need to cut into tiny pieces with the arrow keys before seasoning it, but that chicken breast from earlier you need to tenderize in a specific way. And most importantly: all of this needs to happen fast.
Customers have limited patience and mixed in with customer orders are chores that show up depending on the food you make. If you make food that has a lot of trash tied to it, then you’ll have to take out the trash with another quick-time event. Same goes for washing dishes, setting mousetraps, or just going to the toilet every once in a while. While not essential to making customers happy, neglecting these chores can have negative consequences over time. Especially during the two rush hours on each workday you’ll find yourself rapidly translating orders for stews, meat, and whatever else you have on the menu into commands, which is super satisfying when, at the end of the day, you get a massive cash bonus for finishing all the chores and making all the customers happy.
After each workday you can then spend your money on new recipes, upgrades to your existing menu, or new equipment to make work easier or unlock more options. You also change your menu around, which is essential since keeping a static menu will decrease the “buzz” around your restaurant, which influences how many customers show up. Buzz is also affected by how many perfect orders you had the day prior, bonus factors like random emails from “fans”, and how many of your foods match with the circumstances of the day; some dishes are popular on rainy days, others on sunny ones, and you also have foods that are popular or disliked at certain times of the day, like the smell of fish will decrease your buzz in the morning before turning into a bonus later in the day.
Balancing a good menu is really fun and kind of the main draw of a restaurant simulator, but what I dislike about Cook, Serve, Delicious is the prices of everything. If you want to put pizza on your menu, then that is $1600 to unlock it, which may not sound bad at the start of the game when you have a large sum of money available, but once you spend that and need to earn your cash it becomes a problem. That $1600 pizza will cost customers $6, meaning that you need to sell 267 of them to earn back you initial investment. Knowing you’ll get maybe 50 customers on an exceptionally good day, this is a humongous task.
The early game of Cook, Serve, Delicious! is so slow and tedious that I can´t blame anybody for losing interest way before the game expands. The absurd cost of recipes that bring in so little money and the added cost of upgrading the few recipes you can afford to wring just a few more dollars out of them per customer makes the game drag so much. You are stuck making the same handful of meals day after day until the button combinations for those particular dishes are etched into your mind. You have the option to bet money a few times for a bit of a boost and perfect days net you an extra $250, but whenever I replay the game I rarely make it far enough to even get a 1-star restaurant.
I like the core gameplay here, as it’s fast and requires skill. I also enjoy the concept of running your own restaurant and being more involved, mixing a management simulator with more direct gameplay, but what is build around it bothers me and the game can be too punishing.
Gameplay score: 7/10
The customer is king, even if they neglect to shower
The presentation of Cook, Serve Delicious! is kept simple and that is kind of disappointing. With gameplay that is really repetitive, I feel like the game would have been much better at retaining interest if it wasn’t presented so statically. Each day you stare at the same, boring restaurant that attracts the same handful of bored-looking customers. Everything is flat and barely animates, though there is a neat day-to-night cycle going on if you somehow have the time to look outside.
Making the food is presented slightly better, with sound-effects that make it sound like you are literally slapping together ingredients with a ferocity that matches the button-mashing you are expected to do, but as I mentioned before: you end up making the same few dishes over and over again, so this effect definitely loses its charm. While all of this happens you get to listen to some inoffensive music that doesn’t really add much at all; it’s better than silence I suppose, but I would go crazy listening to it for too long.
Presentation score: 3/10
Dedicated Developers Deliver
While it was not available when I first bought the game, there have been many patches that eventually even included a competitive multiplayer mode and extra challenges. While not really interesting to me personally, especially because the multiplayer requires the use of controllers, the original version that I purchased was upgraded with all this extra stuff for free, showcasing some real dedication on the part of developer that is now working on a sequel. You can also try your hand at an endurance mode or the weekly challenges.
Even in the main game there are extra bits you can do, like catering jobs to bring in more money and randomized bets that really test your skills as a cook.
Extra score: 9/10
I am curious what Vertigo Gaming will do with this game’s sequel because the game has a strong center that just needs some better support. What really kills the game is its slow boil early on, where you have few options to vary up your play and the game just doesn’t seem to proceed at all. Having to operate a full 20 in-game days on such a meager amount of content before you get your first star really hurts the game for me each time I pick it up again.