Cuisineer is a fun game that combines a number of strange components in novel and comfortable ways, all in a cute and reasonably priced package. Many of the mechanics in Cuisineer will be familiar to you from previous games, but I believe the blend is a rather special combination on its own.
I must admit that before starting this review, I was nervous. It was overwhelming to read the synopsis of the game’s features, which included restaurant management, dungeon crawling, action-adventure, roguelite, and life simulation. I was unable to determine whether the long list of objects was merely a grab-bag of search terms or whether there was a clear idea for a game. However, it was not all that dissimilar from going through an ingredients list prior to starting to cook. After some time and step-by-step guidance, the incongruous components start to come together to form a surprisingly tasty delicacy.
The three pillars of the Cuisineer model, in my opinion, are the aesthetics/vibe, restaurant management, and dungeon delving. The parts that most resonated with me, considering my typical tastes, surprised me. Let’s each take one of those.
You go out as Pom to confront numerous themed dungeons in the dungeon crawling. Every dungeon is divided into levels, and as you go down, the potential riches get rarer and the adversaries more difficult to defeat—standard dungeon fare. You can never be too sure of what a potential dungeon floor might hold because each floor is created procedurally every time you arrive. I was piloting Pom the same way I had Zagreus in the past because of the isometric perspective, ability cooldowns, and fast dash mechanics of the moment-to-moment gameplay, which makes me think of something like Hades.
Still, getting relics and weapon upgrades isn’t the main goal of dungeon exploration. More along the lines of Moonlighter, where you gather mountains of resources and must choose between taking your chances and returning home to use your wealth. Death is merely a little setback because Pom will have her building materials after death but not her cooking ingredients, thus depending on your goals for a particular explore, you can choose to pursue it still.
The management of restaurants is more like management simulation than cooking simulation. Customers will start to trickle in after your business opens and will start to look for specific foods. They’ll sit down and place an order, assuming there’s adequate seating and you have the necessary ingredients in your store cupboard. All you have to do to get it ready for them is head over to the relevant station, press cook, and the timer will start. They eventually find the finished dish on a counter, which they take and consume on their own. When they’re finished, they’ll go pay, but they’ll hold off until you get the money.
This mostly leads in you pinging back and forth between necessary sites in the wee hours of the morning. Hastily prepare the dish in the kitchen and proceed to the counter to retrieve the payment. Things will eventually slow down enough for you to take a break and tally your day’s earnings. You can use the money to improve your shop, buy new furniture or equipment, buy better adventure supplies, and much more.
You’ll need to explore Paell and get to know its diverse population in order to complete those tasks. Despite the game’s absence of voice acting, the personalities of these quirky anthropomorphic buddies are evident. You buy upgrades from them, accept side missions from them, get gifts on certain occasions, and generally enjoy the small pleasures of the quaint village. There’s always something to do, something to purchase, something to make, and something that’s just out of your present financial grasp.
All of this creates a really fulfilling gaming loop. To obtain supplies and ingredients, proceed to the dungeon. To produce food and make money, open a restaurant. Utilize the funds and materials to modernize or grow your eatery. Battery Rinse, lather, and repeat. Though clear, the loop’s transparency doesn’t make it any less addictive.
Everything was interesting to me, even though not quite in the ways I had expected.
I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the restaurant management part. I believe my expectations were for a more comprehensive culinary simulation, something like the game Lemon Cake (which my wife loves) or culinary Mama. However, the way the game plays more closely resembles Diner Dash or other macro-level simulation games in which you have to pay close attention to ensure that everything continues to work as it should despite the automated details. After the sign changed to OPEN and customers began to arrive, I settled into a consistent routine of getting ready, cleaning up, and cashing out. To be honest, it’s a little too satisfying to watch the little coin counter increase higher and higher.
The visuals and atmosphere were also very pleasing. With its charming characters, low risks, and soothing colors, I would characterize this game as comfortable. Every time I saw Pom’s relieved expression once the evening rush was over, or whenever the quaint townspeople stopped by to tell me their stories, I smiled broadly. It’s amazing that despite being a game about debt and desertion and sending you on a lone mercenary chicken-slaying adventure, it never makes you feel too overwhelmed or alone. Nothing beats a death in the dungeon, but that doesn’t stop you from returning home, picking yourself up, and letting your guard down for the morning crowd.
I felt like I got off the game more than I thought I would throughout the combat. Action-roguelikes are already kind of lackluster for me (I much prefer turn-based games because I can carefully examine every decision, every relic, etc.), but I feel like the aesthetic decisions limit them in this genre. Too many foes seem to mix in with the surroundings. It seemed like I was always slamming into danger and never quite knew who or what I was fighting because of this, along with the fact that many of the foes were small and moved at an unexpectedly high speed. A lot of the enemy designs I came across also seemed a little too cutesy and homogeneous to differentiate; granted, some of the small blobs had a chicken-like appearance, but occasionally it was difficult to tell the other small blobs from.
In addition, the absence of health bar indicators took me out of the fighting feeling. I realize it’s a small complaint, but in some fights, it was harder to tell how near or far I was from winning without health bars. This would have been more realistic—that is, as realistic as fighting sentient fire-breathing peppers with a battle spatula can be—but it took away from the fights’ suspense because there was no feeling of “If I can just hang in a bit longer!” The majority of battles blended together, not in the pleasant way that the restaurant elements did, when combined with the large number of fast-moving, tiny, indistinguishable foes.
In all honesty, considering the quality, they are quite small criticisms. I’ve played for tens of hours, and even still, I feel like I’ve only touched the surface. There’s a lot of game here; I still have more dungeons to explore, more recipes to unlock, more add-ons to produce for my store, and more character details to discover.
This game’s performance is also a huge plus. It worked flawlessly on both my PC and my Steam Deck when I tested it, and I didn’t have to change any settings on either device. Throughout my time with the game, I never once encountered a crash, which is something I can’t claim for many of the supposedly triple-A games I’ve played lately. I occasionally get framerate drops on Steam Deck, however they only occur during the anticipated intense scenes where a lot of opponents and effects are appearing at once.
Not to mention that it’s all very reasonably priced. At launch, the game costs $24.99 (or the equivalent in your country). As is customary these days, there is also a deluxe edition featuring soundtracks and an artbook. That said, I think that for that kind of money, you get a feature-rich game with superb performance, precise controls, and a compelling gameplay loop.
Despite a few small complaints, Cuisineer offers a lot of games in a relatively cheap bundle. Almost everybody who finds its concept and visual intriguing at first glance will enjoy it because of its unique blend of well-known components. I have to leave now because I have hungry customers waiting.