Creative, Stressful, and Delightful too!
There’s a strange appeal to playing something emulating an undesirable task. While my experience in the food service industry was at times a horrible grind, there’s an appetite for games that mimic aspects of that job while also gamifying them to turn the real-life work into an engaging experience. For those with a reliable group of friends to play couch co-op, there’s the Overcooked series. For the rest of us, there’s Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, a solitary experience that evokes the tensions and triumphs of working in a kitchen without the hard labor or putrid odors.
This restaurant simulator is about spinning plates—completing orders and cleaning tasks as they are received accurately before customers get tired of waiting. Where Overcooked is about moving characters on-screen between stations to coordinate between friends and complete orders, Cook, Serve, Delicious is about dexterity between your left and right hand to curate each order according to the customer’s request via menu prompts. Orders and clean-up tasks are queued on the left side of the screen. Each order has specific requests: one customer might want their hot dog on a plain bun with just ketchup; another might want a pretzel bun with the works, and each accoutrement means going into sub-menus on the right-hand side and pressing the corresponding button for each.
Cleaning tasks similarly require a sequence of button presses to complete, each with a different order of operations that take varied amounts of time. Selecting the task to clean a toilet opens the menu on the right-hand side of the screen, where you have to hit the X button to wash the toilet and then the Y button to use sanitizer before the task will be marked as complete. Others are more involved, such as taking out the trash before it overfills, which requires spamming the button input to simulate cramming it down into the dumpster, or washing dishes, which is a six-step affair. Failing to complete these chores affects your end-level rating.
Success depends on effective time management. Prep work beforehand is possible for some menu items, shortening lead-times. Cooking hot dogs or pretzels at the start removes one step in completing an order. Using all that food ingredients that have been prepped requires either setting aside time to stage another set of food items, or cooking them individually for each order afterwards. There is an ebb and flow of customers, so it’s critical to use slow periods to complete prep work where possible, setting the table to handle rush hour periods with the speed necessary to assemble orders that satisfy customers. While input combinations for various food items are first being learned, each extra second becomes a precious commodity. Effective planning and execution results in placing higher on a three-tier rating system, and this leads to unlocking levels (of which there are many) and restaurant furniture used in assembling your own absurd restaurant backdrop.
There’s something about the presentation that is simple, yet delightful. The start menu has a silly, upbeat jingle repeating the title as a constant refrain, with food falling from the sky in the background. The restaurant backdrops have a basic art design, but the food itself contrasts with this, being hyper-detailed in presentation as if a photo were scanned. A bell chime rings with each order that adds to the tension during peak hours. In assembling a dish, the food shakes and a plopping sound is made when adding toppings, giving satisfying tactile feedback. It is all very unassuming and charming.
Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! caught my interest with its presentation and gradually won me over with a surprisingly comprehensive and diverse set of levels that are challenging without being unfair. If you can ride out an initial hump of stress in learning how to play, then much like leaving work at the end of a long shift, you’ll find a strong sense of satisfaction cooking and serving delicious digital food.