November 9, 2023
XSEED Games, Marvelous Europe Ltd.
Step into the whimsical world of Cuisineer, where culinary delights meet dungeon-crawling adventures. This charming indie game, a familiar presence at PAX Australia’s Indie Lounge, invites you to join Pom, the friendly cat girl armed with a spatula and boba tea, on a quest to revive her family’s debt-ridden eatery, the ‘Potato Palace.’ As you navigate the bustling village of Paell, you’ll discover a rich tapestry of townsfolk, embark on daring dungeon runs with randomly generated challenges, and immerse yourself in a delightful fusion of roguelite and management simulation gameplay. Cuisineer promises a feast for your senses, where every dish tells a tale of triumph, and every dungeon dive unfolds a new chapter in this delectable adventure.
You begin the game as Pom, the friendly cat girl, being summed back home from adventuring. Her parents need assistance running the restaurant ‘Potato Palace’. By the time you arrive, however, your parents have already gone to travel the world! They’ve been very generous to you and left you to rebuild the skeleton restaurant they gutted to pay for their trip. Thankfully you have a friend, Biscotti, who is happy to assist you. The townsfolk are all incredibly friendly and happy to see Pom home and the Potato Palace reopened. The tax collector is also incredibly happy you’ve returned as it seems your parents have quite a debt to be paid. It’s up to you to pay off the debts by running the restaurant. Finding ingredients is easy as you’re a seasoned adventurer! Simply head into the forest and collect all the ingredients you need. Biscotti even gives you the power of teleportation for easy returning back home.
Running the restaurant is the first half of the gameplay loop and requires minimal management skills. Customers arrive, take a seat, and make an order. The orders pop up to the top of the screen and an exclamation mark appears above the cooking station needed. Simply click on the station then select the order to start cooking. You don’t even need to be in the screen to cook it. Later on in gameplay, you can upgrade stations to have multiple recipes queued up as well as multiple different cooking stations like an oven, frying pan, boiling pot, and prep table. Once the meal is cooked it magically arrives on the serving table where the customers get up and pick up their meal. Once finished, they’ll head over to the cash register and wait for you to take their payment.
The day is split into seven main sections and the time is constantly continuing onward. What you do with your time is incredibly valuable. Three times a day there are specialised ‘rush’ times when more customers will attend than normal. The best part about Cuisineer is the flexibility to open and close the restaurant as you please. So if you would like to open for just the lunch rush, you can spend the afternoon in town or even visiting a dungeon. However, when you return to the village after leaving, it automatically turns to night. So if you want to open the restaurant, you’ll need to do so before going hunting.
Whilst it does get a little bit hectic later on, the restaurant management side of the game is very chill and cosy. It requires minimal skill to succeed, unlike some other restaurant management sims that have skill challenges or manual delivery of meals. I feel the developers may have purposely made this part of the game less chaotic in order to balance the game as a whole and allow some ‘downtime’ as the dungeon portion is quite intense and can get quite frustrating. Personally, I would’ve enjoyed something a little more involved with the management portion, however, the mechanics and gameplay work seamlessly and the choice made works.
For the roguelite portion of the gameplay, you’ll want to don your spatula and bring along some healing boba tea because things are going to get hectic. There are so many adorable things to smash to pieces and scavenge for ingredients. It’s almost criminal. You can also harvest trees, rock, and ore alongside the tasty aftermath of slaughter. The weaponry is perfectly themed with spatulas, swordfish, throwing plates, durian bombs, and more. You find new weapons throughout gameplay or can purchase them in town. Weapons and armour can also have up to 2 special abilities and level up 5 times. Whilst the weapons and types are limited, the combination of abilities that can be put on the weapons assists in creating different builds based on your play style. There are 2 weapon slots, melee and ranged, both have a basic attack alongside a special attack that requires cool-downs. There is also a dash mechanic some special abilities will affect, like leaving a pool of ice behind you.
Dungeons are randomly generated ensuring that every adventure is a different experience, including different key points on each level, such as a staircase to delve deeper into the dungeon. Along the way, you can also run into challenges that will lock you into an area and spawn several enemies for you to defeat. These challenges are tough but come with a hefty chest of loot. Keep an eye out for these spots, they’ve been marked out with red flags with a spear symbol on them. They’re hard to miss!
Dungeoneering can be a bit unforgiving. If you happen to meet your end during an expedition, it’s not only emotionally crushing, it also means dropping 3/4 of the ingredients you’ve collected. It might sound harsh but the threat keeps you on your toes.
Paell is host to a vast variety of townsfolk, creating a vibrant community that, at times, may feel a bit overwhelming for the compact size of the village. You’ll find townsfolk not only have different stores but also offer side quests in exchange for recipes. The blacksmith aids with essential items for dungeon runs, the carpenter focuses on crafting furniture to enhance your restaurant, the bubble tea store offers healing potions, and the brewery enchants your weapons for added combat prowess. On top of this, there are two shop fronts that change depending on the day, showcasing a variety of items such as art, rugs, special items, plants, trades, and more. The dynamic assortment of stores and services allows a lot of customisation to your overall gameplay.
You will find yourself with a lot of side quests rather quickly, however, there is a notable absence of a UI tracking system to remind you what specific items villagers are asking for. Navigating through lists to identify who needs what can become cumbersome. While I appreciate the developers’ decision to randomise the villagers’ locations to create a lively village atmosphere, there are occasional days when some residents are simply missing and unavailable for interaction. Shops have opening hours to keep in check, but villagers are just randomly around. When backpack space is like gold and time is a valuable commodity, carrying around items for quests and not finding those people can be quite frustrating. Despite this, there is a distinct absence of strict deadlines. This creates the cosy simulation atmosphere Cuisineer is aiming for. The lack of time pressure allows players to embrace the unhurried pace of village life, encouraging a more relaxed and immersive experience without the constant stress of impending deadlines.
Players enjoying the game on PC may find a preference towards using a controller, especially during combat. Manoeuvring Pom through the dungeons felt intuitive thanks to the well-tailored combat controls that the controller provided. They feel smooth and responsive to the gameplay where timing matters on dodging and swinging. This may come down to personal preference, however, there is functionality for keyboard and mouse support that felt a little clunky and lacked the fluidity needed. So for a more seamless experience, I’d recommend giving the controller a go.
Speaking of optimisation, the loading screens are so painful. For a sweet little indie game, watching loading screens each time you open a door can be really frustrating. We also found that the game did not work on a work laptop that I’m able to play other indie titles on. Unsure if this is a limitation of the review build or if the optimisation of the game needs work.
The adorable hand-drawn art design for Cuisineer may well be the thing that draws people towards the game. Between cat girls, chipmunk children, dragon nobles, and panda men, there is really something for everyone who enjoys the anthropomorphic charm. Each character has been hand-crafted, adding a layer of personality to the bustling village of Paell. The attention to detail in their expressions and animations creates a world that feels vibrant and lived-in. The art not only serves as a feast for the eyes but also as a testament to the developers’ dedication to creating a visually immersive experience.
Complementing this visual delight is the musical score that gracefully dances through the various biomes and dungeons. The music in Cuisineer is more than a background melody; it’s a symphony that enhances the emotional resonance of every moment. Whether you’re engaged in a hectic dungeon brawl or peacefully managing your restaurant, the music adapts seamlessly, adding a layer of depth to the overall experience. Together, the art and music in Cuisineer form a harmonious duet, elevating the gaming experience to a level where every pixel and note contributes to the game’s immersive charm.
- Charming art and design
- Engaging roguelite elements
- Rich culinary variety
- Wholesome cosy vibes
- Smooth and intuitive gameplay
- Lack of UI tracking for quests
- Lengthy loading screens
Cuisineer invites you to savour a unique blend of roguelite excitement and restaurant management. With over 100 recipes and dozens of ingredients, you can craft your own culinary experience in a customised kitchen, all while serving the diverse residents of Paell. While the village may feel overwhelming at times, the warmth of the townsfolk and the variety of quests create a cosy, immersive experience. Despite a few quirks like the lack of a UI tracking system and loading screen inconveniences, Cuisineer shines with its adorable anthropomorphic art and a gameplay smorgasbord that blends combat, cooking, and questing into a truly enchanting experience. So, don your spatula, savour the joy of culinary chaos, and let Cuisineer whisk you away on a journey that’s enjoyable and heartwarming.