If 2012 will be remembered in the annals of video game history, it will likely be for the utter dominance of indie titles in the year-end lists. Moreso than ever before has the term “indie” meant nothing about the game it describes. What’s more, those games have been getting coverage with a capital C. So I guess as a way of saying goodbye to the fantastic games of 2012, I’ve decided to talk about my favourite indie game that has not enjoyed the level of coverage as many other stellar indie titles this year have.
Following the trend of 2012 being the year of the “one-man game,” Cook, Serve, Delicious! was made almost entirely by David Galindo, with the exception of the music and artwork. Along with being one of the (very unexpectedly!) funniest games I’ve played this year, the game’s disarming & charming aesthetic did not prepare me for what is undoubtedly the best WarioWare-like game I have ever played. In fact, I probably ended up spending more time with CSD! than with almost any other game this year. The gameplay is simple in nature but blisteringly fast, resulting in a challenge that is more than enough to keep the average player interested. The game does not overstay its welcome, as it evolves in numerous ingenious ways by the time you’ve reached the end.
I hesitate to use the term “cooking game” with CSD!, even if it’s right there in the title, as the term inevitably draws comparisons to such titles as Diner Dash or the Cooking Mama series. So let me set the record straight: Cook, Serve, Delicious! is hard. It is hard as hell and it might leave you frustrated for your first half-hour or so with the game. To coin my good friend Arden Kehoe, CSD! is the “Dark Souls of cooking games,” and I’ve found myself agreeing with that statement more and more as my time with the game went on. At the time of writing I’ve chalked up about 20-25 hours with CSD! and many times I have found myself surprised at how such a simple game retains its challenge for so long.
The gameplay itself consists of very simple tasks, done as fast and correctly as possible: pressing “M” or “K” to add mustard or ketchup to that corndog, holding down the down arrow to tap a beer with just the right amount of head, mashing the up arrow to uncork that wine bottle. Those of you familiar with the aforementioned Wario-Ware-like genre will understand how such a simple task can become very hard when the simple constraint of time is added. Suddenly you find yourself hitting the wrong keys and pouring crappy beers because before you knew it happened you had 6 orders backed up and someone’s gotta wash those dishes (it’s you).
There are two important elements of this game that keep it interesting and add substance past what is essentially a series of minigames. The first of these is the restaurant management. After each successful day at work, you’ve acquired an amount of cash depending on what items you’d served that day and how many of each. You then get to use that cash to buy new menu items, new appliances or upgrade existing menu items (chicken patties for your burgers, etc.). The upgrades are what gives the minigames more depth as time goes on. Each time you add a possible ingredient to a menu item you increase its menu price but you also increase the recipes you have to learn and sometimes you add an entire step in food preparation, costing you valuable time.
The second important addition to the game’s framework is your email inbox. Your restaurant is on the bottom floor of one of the busiest business towers in town – SherriSoda Tower – and as a result you’ve been added to the tower’s mailing list! This results in an excellent quantity of flavour text as numerous anonymous workers email their colleagues with their various grievance and problems, many of which had me genuinely laughing. I noted in the credits that while the game itself was essentially completed by three people, it took about 12 people to write all of the emails you’ll read in the game. The level of effort the team expended there really shows, as I’ve still not come across a duplicate email despite playing further into this game than most players probably would.
If you only take away one thing from this review about CSD!, let it be that this is truly a game that is much, much more than the sum of its parts. With simple to pick up yet hard to master gameplay, tons of content and numerous surprises in store (two words: dating sim), Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a 2012 indie game that needs your attention.