Review: Cook, Serve, Delicious!

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When I think of management games, it’s usually with a relaxed sigh and a dreamy grin. I love management sims because they’re often wonderfully chill, allowing me to build trade empires or airports or feudal villages at my leisure. So imagine me sitting there with my dopey, lazy grin on my face when Cook, Serve, Delicious! comes out from the back, kicks me in the shins, and orders me back into the kitchen. It’s like the developers tried as hard as they could to capture the soul-crushing stress of running an actual restaurant, and by some miracle crammed it into a game alongside a heapin’ helping of fun and plenty of heart.

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SherriSoda Tower has fallen on hard times, and many of its premier businesses and restaurants have closed their doors for good. But the management has decided to come roaring back by reviving the old Cook, Serve, Delicious! restaurant, and they’ve put you in charge of this lofty endeavor. To do that, you’ll have manage the whole joint yourself, from setting the menu to working the kitchen to serving the meals to running the chores to investing your earnings, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something in there. It’s you against an army of the tower’s hungriest visitors every day, and you will be judged harshly on your choice of offerings and how well you prepare them. Survive the scrutiny, and maybe a few catering gigs, television appearances, and robberies along the way, and you might just have a five-star restaurant to your name some day.

Before we delve into the many distractions from your culinary quest, let’s break down exactly what you’re doing here and why it’ll make you sweat. Each day, your restaurant operates from 8am to 10pm, which passes in a few minutes of real time. You have a number of serving stations, depending on the rank of your restaurant, that orders will come in on. Each order will be something on your active menu, and will require you to complete some small button-based task. It could be as easy as pressing C and R to put cheese and ranch on a salad, or as complex as selecting and chopping five different vegetables for your soup. You’ll also have chores to do like dishes and trash, and none of these tasks will wait around for long. Add to that the lunch and dinner rushes where all of your stations will be constantly full, and maybe you can see where the stress begins.

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I want to make two things abundantly clear: CSD is really fun, and CSD is really stressful. The fun comes from learning how all your recipes work, how to slice fish and tenderize steaks and deep fry sopapillas with just a few swift key presses. When you get into a groove you feel amazing, like some kind of culinary demigod weaving together the chaotic threads of food services. And then you put the wrong layer on your lasagna, lose your combo, and panic. You need focus and practice to be good at CSD, and until you build those skills you’re going to be sweating through every rush. It doesn’t help that the stakes can be great here, like hundreds of dollars riding on rewards and randomized bets that you can keep a perfect combo going all day. And while not stressful, the management side of the game has serious pacing issues where you can complete all the requirements for your next star, except you still have to complete 15 more days of the same routine just because.

The main antagonist of the game is the grind, because you’ll most likely complete your challenges and even save up some decent cash for upgrades way before you meet the days passed requirement to progress. Buying new foods to serve or upgrading them for more lucrative and complex dishes helps, but some of the upgrades are terribly expensive and foods have a dizzying number of status effects that influence your buzz, meaning your actual menu selections will be artificially limited. On the bright side, the developers did add plenty of additional modes over time to entertain you if the business side gets you down. There’s a whole Iron Chef knockoff that offers multiplayer and online challenges, allowing you to experience more of the menu and some peak prep pressure. And it’s worth mentioning that the in-game email system and little snippets of story and worldbuilding you get here and there are surprisingly well done and worth your attention.

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In the end, Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a load of great gameplay tied to some middling management. There’s not much out there like preparing a soda or a pizza here, dancing your fingers across the keys to offer up piping hot plates. But if you want to work your way through the game proper, you’re going to be stuck doing the same thing for hours upon hours, and even the most fun simulations can get tedious if they’re not offering much new along the way. The ways your menu and upgrades are limited only exacerbate the problem, though there are other modes you can escape to for relief. And you’ll need relief, because as much fun as this one is, it’s bound to stress you out at points. It’s a good, rewarding stress though, and something that you owe it to yourself to try.

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