Cuisineer is a simulation/dungeon-crawler adventure game where players explore the adorable town of Paell as they work to build their own successful restaurant. The game follows a recent trend of “cozy” games, which focus on cute aesthetics with easy to understand, often mindless mechanics. Combining a multitude of different game genres and featuring lots of moving parts, Cuisineer is a very ambitious project. Do all these elements compliment one another or are parts of the game lost in translation?
The story of Cuisineer revolves around a little girl named Pom who returns to her hometown after years of being an adventurer. Upon her comeback, she realizes that her parents have left on a world journey and their family restaurant is now closed. She decides to take it upon herself to reopen the restaurant, rebuild her customer base, and get to know and help the townspeople.
The main storyline of the game primarily focuses on Pom and her goal of seeing the family restaurant thrive. The objectives in the main quest lines can be tedious, for example, some of the early quests require the player to save boatloads of money in order to repay the family’s debt.
The side quests involve approaching town NPCs, and fulfilling ingredient or recipe requests for them. This can be a good opportunity to get to know the characters and understand the in-game world. One can find many wholesome moments and anecdotes from speaking to these characters in town. In spite of this, each character is quite surface-level, with only one or two defining traits, and there is not much depth to be found in the story. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, especially in this “cozy” genre, but it’s worth mentioning.
Cuisineer features a variety of different gameplay types. The adventuring/ingredient-gathering component is a roguelike dungeon crawler, featuring familiar styles of combat and strategy. Cuisineer handles its dungeon crawling the same way many other games have. This makes it a pretty smooth experience, however, it was extremely difficult to progress in the beginning. Purchasing heals, buffs, and better equipment to survive for longer in the dungeons is super hard for no reason. The game starts by allowing you to only bring a single heal with you, and you receive no starting gear. So if you want to fight some of the rarer enemies, you won’t last very long. This can be frustrating, especially because players lose much of their inventory when dying in the dungeons, making a lot of the trips feel pointless.
Running and maintaining the restaurant is an element of this game I was really excited for, as a longtime fan of simulation games, especially ones that require you to learn strategy and resource allocation. I admit that I was underwhelmed by this part of the game, and can’t exactly pinpoint why. The restaurant certainly could get busy and hectic, but the stakes often didn’t feel high enough, and similar to the dungeon-crawling gameplay, opportunities to upgrade and improve the efficiency of the restaurant seem limited. Even when you made lots of money, you also had to upgrade the restaurant space, craft new furniture, have enough ingredients, and more to improve your restaurant. I wish that it was easier to move forward in the restaurant portion of the game, without being forced to invest in a million different things at once.
A large amount of grinding in both aspects of the game are necessary to advance the storyline and upgrade your restaurant. For me, this made the game feel a bit slow-paced, and difficult to stay motivated throughout.
The game itself presents in 3D and the environments, while cute and pastel, don’t stand out very much on their own. The NPCs can be cute but their models are not particularly detailed, and the same can be said for enemies out in the wild.
During dialogue segments and cutscenes that are visual-novel style, we see 2D art of many of the characters. The artists who worked on this portion deserve so much praise, as the character arts were certainly a standout. The more detailed character design visible during these scenes really improved the experience, and I wish art like this was more prevalent throughout the entire game, or reflected better in the 3D environment.
The music is atmospheric and fun. Sometimes the game sound can be overwhelming, particularly in restaurant or combat sequences where a lot is happening at once. Occasionally music plays when it feels like it shouldn’t be there.
There’s not too much else to say about the soundtrack. There aren’t really any standout audio moments and this part of the game flew under the radar for me.
Playing Cuisineer was an enjoyable experience, with many cute visuals and wholesome story moments and characters. Unfortunately the game tries to tackle too many different genres, resulting in at times, lackluster and repetitive gameplay. Still, there is a lot to enjoy, particularly if you are a fan of dungeon crawlers and cozy, wholesome games.