November 21, 2009

Review: Cake Shop 2

game format: time management | arcade

puzzles: none

playtime: 8 hours | difficulty: easy

developer: Elefun Games | publisher: Big Fish Games

links: Official site | Buy this game

Cake Shop 2
game brief: Open up your very own roadside café, and earn money, while treating your customers to delicious fruitcakes with different fillings in Cake Shop 2! Purchase advanced culinary equipment and begin to build your confectionery corporation as your café grows! Quickly serve visitors and use unique upgrades to keep your clientele content, and coming back for more. (Official website)

review: First, the good news: Cake Shop 2 has a whopping 155 - yes, 155 - levels stuffed with cakes, shakes, colas, coffees, popcorn and candy floss - sweet, but definitely not short!

Now, the story. I haven't played Cake Shop, the original title, and so started fresh with blonde, blue-eyed heroine Emily. She takes time off from sunbathing at a resort to drop in at her friend Frederico's cafe for a chat and a coffee. Moments later, Frederico's grandma calls to inform him that she's getting married for the, uh, seventh time. Since he must be familiar with the drill by now, Frederico drops all work, including his cafe, into Emily's lap, and jets off to attend the big day.

But that's not the last we see of him. Once Emily starts slogging behind the counter, Frederico reappears, dressed nattily in a striped grey suit. Suddenly, he's the boss and she's the employee. He tasks her into building his beach shack cafe into a Cake Shop conglomerate spread across the city, all the while spewing inanities such as, 'I don't know how you did it!' and 'Even I couldn't do that!'. He (generously) allows her to keep the part of the money not spent in constructing new buildings and upgrading equipment as her salary, and sends her off to a well-earned vacation at the end. What about a partnership in the firm she built for you, bro?

Emily, unlike the feisty heroines of other time management games like Flo and Jill Evans, remains a static image on the level loader screen. It's Frederico's show all the way, and the gamer may have actually cared about the 'big picture' if he had been the protagonist. Building the Cake Shop empire is Frederico's dream, not Emily's. And thus, the story fails.

Which makes this game, well, just a game. So, coming to the game-play.

View screenshots: Level 1 / Level 2 / Level 3 / Level 4 / Level 5

Cake Shop 2 follows the conveyor belt format. The ingredients must be plucked off the carousel and used with various equipment, purchased between levels, to serve the customers. Besides cakes, the Shop also offers sodas (cola, orange, regular), ice-cream cones and shakes (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry), popcorn (salted, caramel), coffee (normal, black, cappuccino), juice (apple, grape, orange), candy floss, and hot milk.

The cakes are three-tiered - two layers of waffle sandwiching a layer of filling. The tiers appear separately on the belt and must be combined correctly to make the basic, round cake. Cakes may be shaped into squares, triangles or hearts, and may be topped with chocolate, peach or strawberry sauce. Ice-cream cones can also be topped with the sauces.

Equipment includes soda and ice-cream dispensers, a blender, a juicer, a coffee maker and a cappuccino machine, popcorn machines, a candy floss spinner, cake shapers and toppings taps.

With such a vast array of products, flavours and equipment, Cake Shop 2 boasts incredible game depth. Equipment choices determine the items offered and revenue. But more expensive, complicated items need more time to make, which means less tips, so a strategic balance has to be constantly maintained between cost and time.

Emily's efforts are supported by four types of bonuses. 'Patience' adds hearts to the customers; 'Time Freeze' switches the clock off for several precious seconds; 'Quicker Machines' make equipment produce items instantly; and 'Fulfil Order' completes part of an order, an entire order, or all pending orders at that moment. All bonuses can be upgraded thrice. Upgrading 'Patience', 'Time Freeze' and 'Quicker Machines' adds seconds to their time limits. 'Fulfil Order' upgrades in service range.

However, the bonuses expire within seconds, and it's difficult to use them to any serious strategic advantage. For example, the gamer doesn't have much control over using 'Quicker Machines' if the bonus is expiring and the customers are only ordering basic, round cakes. Or the 'Patience' bonus appearing when there are no customers around.

Customer types are few and remain constant irrespective of the shops' locations. Buyers include a cop, a tennis player, a young girl with a balloon, a businessman, a tourist, and a blonde hottie who looks, waves, walks and talks on the cellphone just like Paris Hilton.

Profits are used to construct new shops - there are four (Beach Cafe, Park Cafe, Business Cafe and Central Cafe), plus an office. Construction proceeds parallel to the game, but selecting which portion to build is perfunctory - all portions have to be purchased to move to the next shop. Same goes for equipment upgrades, though in this case, buying intelligently helps save time during the initial levels. A drawback to planning equipment purchase is that product prices are not mentioned - for example, is coffee more profitable than popcorn? However, this oversight is rendered irrelevant as goals are easily achievable and profits are much higher than expenses, so there is no money crunch (I finished the game with $46,000 AFTER all expenditures).

A few game design elements make Cake Shop 2 more efficient than its peers: customers can be served by clicking the right mouse button on the item rather than have to drag it to them; there is also no 'overnight wastage' - money deducted on leftover items when the shop closes, nor any penalties for discarding useless items except the time lost in handling them. Customers aggressively buy items on the display shelf, and putting up more expensive items for show pays off handsomely in managing time and effort and controlling customer flow, directly resulting in greater profits. On the downside, serving customers a part of their order does not improve their mood, so there is no way to cheer them up unless the 'Patience' bonus comes up.

For all its game-play strengths, Cake Shop 2 has sub-par production quality by today's standards. The stylised art sequences are dull, Frederico and his assistants' lip movements are disconcerting, and the customers walk like zombies on skates. However, the equipment animation is good, and well-complimented by the sound effects.

That brings up the music, which is possibly the worst part of the game. The severely limited selection comprises a couple of basic sound loops and a jarring jazz-like piece. This is one of the very few games in recent times that I played with the music muted.

The text is rudimentary and suffers from poor grammar and spelling errors, possibly due to translation into English from its original language.

While having so many levels prolongs playing hours, unfortunately, more than half the game is painfully sluggish. Customers appear sparingly, and huge chunks of time lie unutilised. The action picks up in the second half but only slightly; it's easy to get the gold star on every level till the last. In that, the game is often boring, if not downright tiresome.

Cake Shop 2 is ambitious both in length and depth, but the two elements never blend together effectively enough to provide the adrenalin rush of racing against time while juggling multiple challenges. Nor does it create any sense of achievement once it is over, only a bit of relief.

g@mrgrl rating: 2.5/5
game design, numerous items and equipment, 155 levels
graphics, music, too easy, boring
no bugs noted

This is an original review written by me. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without my written consent.