Review – Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Today I’m looking at a unique cooking game that describes itself as “one of the few hardcore restaurant sims in existence”. The English language release of the Japanese original “Ore no Ryouri 3”, “Cook, Serve, Delicious” casts the player as the managing chef in the game’s namesake restaurant located in the fictional SherriSoda Tower, a past-it’s-prime skyscraper on the comeback trail. You’re tasked with dragging it’s run-down cafe back up through the culinary ranks, restoring both the 5-star rating and former glory as hottest restaurant in town, but don’t let the setting fool you – even Gordon Ramsey would struggle to deal with the heat in this kitchen!

Sight-reading ingredients for a simple salad
Sight-reading ingredients for a simple salad

The daily in-game routine is divided into two halves. The first is the management side of things where you reinvest your hard-earned cash on improved kitchen equipment, new and upgraded recipes and regular short term opportunities from your daily batch of emails. The main objective is to increase your restaurant’s star rating by fulfilling a checklist of criteria concerning your menu and equipment upgrades, kitchen performance, and special events you need to complete before you can advance.

Central to the management routine is planning out your daily menu selections – a task that becomes increasingly complicated as your options expand. The basics involve setting your daily special, rotating out any stale options and filling the rest of the available spots with every-day staples, all the while keeping in check the positive and negative effects certain foods (and combinations thereof) have on your restaurant’s Buzz factor throughout the day, which in turn affects customer numbers and your potential profit for the day. Factor in visits from VIPs and health inspectors, betting on your performance (honest) and the option to join a dating site (no, seriously) among other things and you’ll soon be spending as much time in the office as you do cooking.

Juggling the menu for another day
Juggling the menu for another day

Then you step into the kitchen for a 13-hour shift, taking customer orders and preparing them before they get impatient and leave, without making too many mistakes. The rapid-fire preparation sequences for each menu item are based on keystrokes and take mere seconds to complete. Pulling a beer is a simple matter of holding the down key to open the tap, then releasing it when the glass is full to the brim for a perfect pint, a happy customer, a possible tip and a bonus to your base Buzz for the next day. Too much or too little, you’ll still get paid but your perfect combo streak will be reset. Try and serve a drastically short pint and your angry customer will storm off without paying and mouth off about how bad your service is to all their friends.

As you upgrade your way out of deep-fried hell, the preparation sequences become steadily more complicated. Fish has to be gutted, tailed and skinned, then seasoned before cooking for just the right length of time. The twelve layers of lasagne have to be placed in exactly the right order. Salads have to be made up to every individual customer’s personal requirements and dressed just so. Factor in the lunch and dinner rush hour periods and you’ll be struggling to stay afloat. Did I mention the constant stream of chores that you get bombarded with during the day? The more food you serve on plates, the more dishes you’ll have to wash. Some ingredients attract more rats than others, that rubbish won’t take itself out, and if I find out who isn’t flushing that toilet behind them 10 times a day… the ‘hardcore’ label isn’t just for show – this game gets tough in a very stressful way.

Savour the moment, it doesn't last long!
Savour the moment, it doesn’t last long!

Thankfully, the management parts of the game give you a perfect level of control over the difficulty of the day-to-day kitchen work. If you’ve got a health inspection booked and can’t afford to miss a single chore, you can switch out the complicated pizza, pasta and burgers for simpler steak, chicken breasts and ice cream, or even just flat-out reduce the number of items on the menu. You might not make as much money per plate and you might miss out on some Buzz combos, but it’s entirely your prerogative to customize your service according to your confidence. Your kitchen, your rules.

Just don’t get too cocky – during special events you have to cook what you’re told, whether you’re good at it or not. Mercifully, you can repeat events as many times as you need to whenever you like and freely practice any recipes you’ve unlocked. One slight niggle is that you can’t practice upgraded recipes without biting the bullet and paying for the upgrade first – sometimes the procedure doesn’t change, it’s just the ingredient quality and price that go up, so reading the details of the upgrade before you buy it is a good idea to avoid any nasty surprises. Still, it’s always worth a quick practice to familiarize yourself with any new controls or recipes you might need to memorize.

Two pages of soup ingredients makes sight-reading recipes tough
Two pages of soup ingredients makes sight-reading recipes tough

Yes, memorize. You’ll need to be on top form if you want to be competitive on the Steam leader-boards. Be prepared to sharpen up your reaction times, associative memory recall speed, queue handling techniques and keystroke accuracy – the learning curve may start off a little on the boring side of shallow, but then it starts rising and just doesn’t stop. If you like games that carve ‘one more go’ and ‘challenge accepted!’ into your basal ganglia, by all means buy this game – just don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you’re still on the fence, check out the game play videos on the Steam page before you pony up your £7. Or you may have already decided this game isn’t for you, and that’s fine. Most games that set out to be this hardcore cater to fairly specific audiences with little room for apologies for those who can’t hack it.