Step aside, Tom Cruise. This is the real deal.
A good simulation game accurately recreates an entire system, such as controlling a theme park, or running a bus route. A great simulation game recreates something lots of people can easily experience on their own, such as sitting inside a long haul truck or standing behind a griddle for hours on end, but makes it fun. The first Cook, Serve, Delicious combined a goofy, wry sense of humor with the rush of satisfying a line of people demanding food. It brought back my own memories of working in a restaurant, making sandwiches as quickly as possible, while a line of customers stretched out the door. It’s stressful, borderline panic inducing, and a walk on the edge of failure that emphasizes preparation, concentration, and plenty of corn dogs. Cook, Serve, Delicious 2 puts me back on the grill taking orders, and adds brand new wonderful headaches, along with a lot of small, annoying, ones.
The core of the original Cook, Serve, Delicious is just as important in the sequel. Customers will walk in and order some food. You’ll slam their order out on your keyboard, cook it up, and serve it as quickly as possible. During rush hours, your restaurant will be packed and you’ll have more customers than you know what to do with. Each customer is put into a slot corresponding to the numbers on your keyboard, and each order will demand certain keys in order to cook everything up correctly. Do it all right, and the patron will leave happy. Do it wrong, and you’ll deliver an average or bad meal. Too many bad meals and all your effort, your entire day, will be for naught. It’s a system that benefits repetition, and often frustratingly led me into repeating the opening rush of certain menus to get them just right. I’d often mess up perfect days by pressing D instead of S to season some chicken. It reminded me of those long shifts in front of a griddle where I’d forget someone’s grilled mushrooms because they were one in a hundred customers who wanted grilled mushrooms.
Much has changed when it comes to the actual cooking. You now have prep stations where food must be made beforehand, some can be prepared ahead of time, and side dishes that will extend your customer’s willingness to wait. This simple system adds an entirely new layer of strategy to the game. Even now I struggle trying to time out which dishes should be prepped and when. It’s a good idea to have plenty of food ready for rush hour, with a couple of sides to give yourself more time. Nothing hurts worse than having to wait on your prepared food to cook as several customers leave in frustration right in the middle of your busiest hours. It also means you’ll need to balance your menu to avoid overwhelming your prep stations with food, which I still often do.
If you’re successful, you won’t be bringing your restaurant from corn dog rags to porterhouse steak riches like in the first game. Instead you’re a chef for hire- moving from restaurant to restaurant, with their own menus and themes trying to pass a successful day. When you do, you’ll slowly unlock more restaurants, with several shifts of different menus that get harder and harder. It’s a nice change from the original game, since you are forced to get better at different dishes rather than sticking to the same dozen or so foods. This new setup unfortunately takes away the buzz and menu rot features that forced you to shift your menu around in the original. Eventually I found my handful of items that I could bust out as quickly as possible, making these systems somewhat useless, and while I really enjoy trying new foods, taking away those systems is disappointing and ends up leading to repetitive gameplay.
Even with new restaurants to cook through, the removal of old features makes everything feel much more shallow. In the original game you had emails that added some story depth and individual foods could be upgraded and changed. This often made the food you served more rewarding, or easier to make and serve. Without buzz or menu rot, there is no strategy or menu crafting. I was less worried about how many days wine or grilled chicken was on my menu, and just bashing whatever menus the game gave me. Tossing these features out the window cuts out a meaningful chunk from the sequel.
While you will be moving from place to place, you still have your own home restaurant, a customizable blank slate where you can still create a menu and earn extra random items. And I do mean random. Everything from new brick walls, new flooring, new lights, new seating, and new art. Currently my restaurant is decked out with a few cat pictures, a large painting of someone tenderising meat, and one large window. It’s a shame so many food and restaurant items are locked behind gameplay but it’s easy to level up a few times and get some wonderful weird stuff to create your own gastronomic eatery.
If there’s one thing the game succeeds at, it’s making me want to learn more about the food. Where the original game had a cartoon art style throughout (which this game retains for the design of your demanding customers) the food now looks absolutely spectacular. Every time I scroll through the food list I almost always find something new and tasty that makes my mouth water. The food glistens and drips as if it was freshly made at your favorite haunt, and each piece of culinary delight has an incredible description that assigns some ludicrous lore to each item. For pancakes we’re told about a syrup flood from the turn of the century that was so tragic we pour syrup on our hot cakes to this day in remembrance, which is actually partially true. Corn dogs became so popular that they inspired an old-timey, now banned, game called Blister Dash, challenging people to grab as many corn dogs out of an active fryer as possible. It’s ridiculous and just crazy enough that you really want to believe them.
The core of Cook, Serve, Delicious still burns brightly in the tasty center of its sequel. You’re still divining the perfect strategy to shove out as many orders as possible to the ungrateful masses. A lot of the little nuisances that gave the original strategy and depth are gone, however. Gone are some interesting and wonderful systems that added to the simulation feel without forcing me to cook the books. Emails, buzz, and more are promised to come in the future to Cook, Serve, Delicious 2, but for now it’s pretty bare bones. However, the meat that is left on these bones is pretty tasty.