In light of increased violence by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians, several game developers have to come together to create the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid. And with over 1,000 games (available at https://itch.io/b/902/indie-bundle-for-palestinian-aid until Friday for just $5, of which all profits go towards the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), it’s no surprise that there would be a handful of food-related games. So let’s take a look at them.
I did, however, omit a few. There were a couple of food-related text-based RPGs, which is ultimately not a medium that I’m familiar enough with to feel like I could talk about and do it justice (and also most of them required at least 2 players). “Breakfast Cult,” ended up being more about cult stuff than breakfast stuff, which was disappointing (for the purposes of this, anyway). A couple, upon extracting the .zip files, seemed to be files of all Unity assets and no actual game, and eventually I kinda stopped caring. Sorry if I missed any otherwise, I did my best to gleam through the over 1,000 titles in this bundle.
You’re presented with a list of ingredients with names that don’t resemble any food known to man, and it’s up to you to throw things together in combinations that will result in something that resembles a baked good before your partner comes home from work. There are icons next to each item, which vaguely suggest what it is, but the whole point is to sort of work it out yourself. I was just barely able to get a Perfect Cake before running out of ingredients, after countless Acceptable and Dubious attempts.
The UI was simple but effective, and I was almost a little sad that the list of fake applications off to the side couldn’t actually be accessed. Most of the dialogue (which is very slim, and basically bookends the game) with your partner, Nora, would be clunky if it wasn’t so tongue-in-cheek about how Cyberpunk-y it’s trying to be. The repeated use of “shiny” immediately brings to mind that one Spongebob episode where everything in the future is chrome. The fact that the player character and their partner are both asexual (yes, that kind of “Ace” Baker) doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything at first, but it’s worth mentioning that this game was originally developed for an asexual game jam, so think of it as a game that started off as being about an asexual person and then they added the baking afterwards, rather than the other way around (And even then, who cares? If you’ve got something against asexual people, get outta here.)
My only real critique is that after a while, the music loop stopped, forcing me to sit in silence as I studied my baking grimoire. But again, this was a little game hashed together for a game jam, that, if for some reason you didn’t want to get the bundle, is actually free on itch.io, so can you really complain?
Hot Pot Panic
What a classic conundrum: you’re at a hot pot restaurant with a friend, and, despite being all-you-can-eat, you have to control your appetite to avoid weirding out your friend. There’s basically two mechanics you need to keep track of: cooking the food in the hot pot, and managing the conversation with your friend. You click on the raw ingredients to put them in the pot, then wait until the sprites turn a golden hue and you start to hear a sizzling audio cue to eat them. Meanwhile, you have to make small talk with your friend, and pay just enough attention to be able to choose the correct multiple choice response to any question or open-ended statement she ends her side of the conversation with. But you have to be careful not to burn your food, however, because that won’t count towards filling your stomach, which you have to do before you run out of conversation topics. The whole thing is a delicate balancing act. I have to admit I failed at first because for some reason it didn’t dawn on me that you could cook more than one thing at a time?
The pixel art sprite work works very well; the foods are instantly recognizable and I could really feel the judging glare coming from behind the friend’s thick glasses. The background music perfectly matches the atmosphere, and, as already mentioned, other sound design elements like the sizzling cues from perfectly cooked meat prove to be vital to juggling the different elements of gameplay. All in all, a neat little game that perfectly encompasses the feeling of anxiety that comes with wanting to not embarrass yourself in public when all you really want to do is eat.
Putahe ng Ina Mo: Sinigang Edition
Ok, I’m gonna try to be nice to this one. On one hand, I love the aesthetic it’s got going on. Upon opening the game, you can tell from the background music, which I can only describe as “whimsical mad scientist,” as well as a stream of emojis flying past, that this game is supposed to be very goofy. Unlike other games on this list which were more point-and-click, the ingredients for your sinigang (a Filipino tamarind stew) can be picked up and thrown about as you wish. The fact that the art style is very realistic makes this that much funnier.
However, upon opening, the window forces a specific resolution that just would not work with my monitor. This may seem like a minor problem, as I was still more-or-less able to access all the ingredients, but imagine the mental state I was in: I’m already confused, and then the second I clamp the lid on the pot, everything goes up in smoke! How the fuck did I burn water? I ended up also watching a playthrough on YouTube, and they also, no matter what, burned the sinigang. Considering the name of the game translates roughly to “Your Mother’s Cooking,” maybe the idea is that no matter what, you’re never going to make it as well as mom. Or, considering my mom’s cooking, maybe it’s the opposite of that.
A weird, goofy little game that just didn’t seem to like my computer.
This is 100% in the vein of all those weird 2010s “[Mundane Thing] Simulator” games that were all the rage for a while. No instructions, no objectives, just a pile of food for you to play with. My immediate reaction was, for some reason, to grill the mysterious meat slices, but it turns out the stove there is just set dressing. Giving up on such pointless gourmand pretenses, I decided to just make the biggest sandwich I could. Eventually, there was so much on the sandwich that the bottom slice of bread started vibrating slightly, because physics. Then I tried to put my knife in the sandwich, but the vibrations knocked it to the floor, never to be seen again. Then I decided to throw all of my bread and most of the ingredients on the floor, never to be seen again. Here is my end sandwich.
Easily one of the sandwich simulators I’ve played all day.
Much like a wine with a good terroir, this is by far the most complex game on this list (muffled snooty wine snob chuckles in the distance). The end goal is clear: grow grapes, make wine. But, as you can imagine, you are completely at the mercy of the elements. The ideal time to harvest your grapes is when they are at a ripeness of 4-6 out of 10. However, the randomly-generated months gave me month after month of cloudy and rainy weather, not allowing my grapes to get the sunlight they needed to get their ripeness above a 1. The only time my grapes ever hit a 6 was out of harvesting season, and by the time I was allowed to harvest, they had somehow dropped back down to a 1. And as you can imagine, a bunch of 1-star grapes will only make 1-star wine. The fact that I almost immediately got root rot didn’t help any, either. And because I tried to expand too quickly, buying an extra plot of land when I couldn’t even afford the grapes to grow there, I was thousands of dollars in the red within 3 years.
Is that a dig against the game? No. It’s frustrating, but in that way that games with a learning curve often are. The tile-based design is pleasant to look at, although much of the UI can be a little confusing to look at at first. And, of course, most of the “gameplay” is sitting and waiting for the wine critics to tell you what a bad job you did. Some of the few management choices you can make seem to not have much of an impact (my first wine wasn’t acidic enough, so I added pressed juice to my second batch that brought the acidity up to a 9, but then the mere act of bottling the wine brought the acidity down to a 4 somehow). It’s an interesting concept for a game that I assume I’m just not getting, but might give another chance at some point in the future.