There's a bear and a restaurant, but this light adventure is heavier on story than cuisine.
There’s a subset of adventure games where the focus is so squarely on their narrative that there’s little room for any actual gameplay. This isn’t always a bad thing, though: sometimes it allows for just enough player agency to be the cherry on top of a truly endearing story. Bear’s Restaurant falls somewhere in between, as the absence of much to do besides walking around and interacting with other characters makes up the vast majority of the action. Fortunately, with an emotional tale at its core, it manages to provide a fairly enjoyable way to pass a couple hours.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, based on the title and the game’s opening, you’re about to enjoy a restaurant simulation experience of some sort. You, a grey cat, wake up in bed to a bear in a chef’s outfit. Even the opening 15 minutes see you taking orders from customers, passing them along to chef bear, and then delivering the dishes as they come out. You’re also introduced to one of the primary mechanics of Bear’s Restaurant: obtaining memory shards from people you encounter and using those to dive into their memories. Doing so plays a brief cutscene that reveals a special food they might have enjoyed. Not long after, an important truth is revealed about everyone who enters the restaurant: they’ve all passed on and are living in the afterlife.
Saying much more about the story would be doing a disservice to the game, but suffice it to say the plot is an eccentric mix of bittersweet and weird. You’ll eventually encounter people who have been judged as going to heaven or hell, and the memory shards you collect end up granting the ability to see how each character met their fate. The themes of death and what awaits us after we shuffle off this mortal coil permeate Bear’s Restaurant, but they can be at odds with the rudimentary presentation and its vivid pixelated colors. After rolling credits there’s a nice bit of extra content to explore if you’re so inclined, but the lack of any meaningful gameplay means you need to be pretty engaged in the story to want to see it through. The heaviness of certain story beats and the way they’re weaved in almost unexpectedly may be off putting to some players.
Bear’s Restaurant offers a unique experience in that it is both more and less than what it appears to be. Its narrative delivers some poignant emotional moments, but it's also interspersed with oddly dark or fantastical elements that undermine its genuine heart. As a prequel to Fishing Paradiso, which Neal reviewed here, it does at least introduce characters that carry over to that follow up, but those looking for something more well rounded and with more pronounced gameplay elements may want to skip the restaurant and go straight to paradise. If you’re up for a story about the afterlife, how people get there, and the desire to hold on to those we’ve lost, pull up a chair at Bear’s Restaurant.