The meal's been served, but it needed more time in the kitchen.
Automachef is a puzzle game where your robot manager is trying to open restaurants staffed entirely with automated machines so that they can eventually push all humans out of the workforce. Each puzzle gives you a list of recipes that you’ll be making with various ingredients. Ingredients start in dispensers and go onto an assembly line to be prepared into delicious foods. Cheese must be sliced, meat patties must be cooked, potatoes must be chopped into fries, and so on until they are eventually combined into a meal to be served up to customers. With over 40 puzzles available right out of the box, there’s a lot of room to increase the complexity over the game’s runtime.
It’s fairly simple to make a straight assembly line for each ingredient to eventually be combined into a meal, so the real challenge in automachef comes from optimizing your machines to conserve electricity and ingredients. The best way to do this is by having recipes that share ingredients utilize the same assembly lines before having the ingredients separated by smart, programmed robot arms to be sorted into the proper recipes so that fewer overall machines are being used. Order machines capable of turning other machines on and off based on context can also help to avoid waste.
Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of depth in the mechanics of Automachef. When optimizing an assembly line, the answer always seems to boil down to adding more smart arms and order machines, and it’s disappointing how often a layout that I felt was clunky and haphazard would get me an efficiency rating of 94%. I never felt like I was being clever for solving a puzzle, but rather that I was just going through the motions of solving the same puzzle over and over with each stage. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that finished layouts are not saved when you exit a stage, meaning you’ll have to rebuild the entire assembly line from scratch if you want to take a shot at optimizing your machine further.
The controls on Switch are also a bit clumsy. In a game with a digital grid layout like Automachef, I usually prefer the precision of a D-Pad, but in this game the D-Pad controls the camera whenever you’re not in a menu, forcing you to use the analog stick. You can use the D-Pad in a menu—which is recommended, since the analog stick is also pretty unwieldy there—but constantly switching back and forth between the D-Pad and analog stick depending on what I’m doing at the moment can end up feeling like patting your head and rubbing your stomach; the wires in my head kept getting crossed to the point that I’d frequently put in the wrong input, disrupting my work flow.
Automachef fails to really shine in any particular regard, and the control issues push an overall all right game towards mediocre territory. There’s so little depth to the puzzle solving that even now I struggle to really say anything about it that I haven’t already said. The best solution is too often to just brute force your way through the puzzles with little finesse or cleverness. Perhaps there’s an intentional meta-joke at play commenting on automation being able to push its way into jobs that humans could handle with more artistry, but all it leads to is a game that’s as rote and monotonous as the average job that could be done by a robot.