Cook Serve Forever
I want to give a special thanks to Vertigo Gaming for giving us a copy of their latest game, Cook Serve Forever, to explore and cover. Before covering this title, I wasn't aware of the Cook Serve series, so my experience with CSF will be vastly different compared to someone familiar with the original series and its gameplay. In 2012, Cook, Serve, Delicious! was released on mobile platforms with a PC release a few months later. It was a casual cooking simulator that required the player to memorize orders as well as business management elements. In the trilogy, each game featured a nameless voiceless chef who enters a "rags to riches" story, turning a street chef into a five-star master. Cook Serve Forever goes a slightly different approach, forgoing the "business simulator" altogether for a dialed-back experience.
Cook Serve Forever features a story mode with fully voiced cutscenes from a range of voice talents. The story centers around Nori Kage, a young woman with dreams of becoming a chef just like her childhood hero, Chef Rhubarb. Ten years after her mother teaches her how to cook, Nori moves into the neon-shining bustling cyber city of Helianthus with her partner, Brie, as they both start a new life together on their journey to become one of Helianthus's greatest chefs. The art design fits the tone of Cook Serve Forever, giving it a warm 1990s sitcom vibe while reminding the player that this is indeed a Cyberpunk future. There are a lot of instances of worldbuilding, foreshadowing that the utopian lifestyle of this city isn't all it's cracked up to be.
One of the conversations between Brie and Nori is about the delivery robots that appear to take the food to the customers. Nori states that it's for the convenience of the workers as well as the customers, to which Brie replies that the customers are just lazy and should grab the food themselves. Could it be a hidden anecdote that robots are here to ensure humanity is stabilized into laziness? Who knows, but Nori has dishes to make so it's getting to her customers one way or another. Speaking of Nori, I appreciated the flavor that Cook Serve Forever gives to its own game.
Every major character for example is named after food, with Nori being the Japanese term for seaweed, Brie being a type of cheese, and rhubarb being a vegetable. It also could have been just me and I am fairly certain this was a hundred percent intentional, but I could not help but think that Nori looked similar to a specific celebrity cook, does she? I can't help but think of Rachael Ray for some reason or it could be just a mere coincidence. Regardless, Cook Serve Forever offers a solid base with its story, introductory characters, and various locations. There's a reason why I mentioned 'base,' but next up is the gameplay.
Each day loop begins with the player selecting a venue to set up shop for the day. There's not that much of a difference between each venue aside from some local aesthetics. A museum will have an announcer occasionally in the background with repeated audio messages. There are certain locations that offer bonus scenes unrelated to the main story in the form of side quests depending on where Nori and Brie set up shop. One location for example has Nori make food for special needs patients at a hospital. Some light mischief occurs, but scenes like these are few and far between.
Once the player selects a venue, they must then select six out of twelve dishes to use for the day. There isn't any in-depth customer knowledge to be wary of like in Coffee Talk Episode 2 but simply select your favorite dishes. Each dish has specific steps to follow but they are all created the same way and that's through proper button placement. I've used an Xbox One Game Pad for this title but honestly, this can be played with a keyboard with minimal difficulty. Press the button prompts as they appear on the screen before time runs out until you finish all six meals for a shift. At the beginning of each shift, you can select a perk that ups the ante made while increasing the round's difficulty.
One perk may add +3 to the overall score but it may ask the player to take more "NOT" commands in their next shift. This means a lot of on-the-fly mental alertness to ensure the player doesn't press "A" when the game says "NOT 'A'" for example. There is no reason not to take the most difficult perk in each round as even the biggest challenge Cook Serve Forever has to offer in its state doesn't break much of a sweat. Despite the perks, which sound like something out of a roguelike, CSF is anything but one. Despite some tricky wording with some of the button prompts, the gameplay is seamless and very easy to grasp. The challenge is as hard as the player wishes for it to be although it encourages a calming atmosphere largely due to the music thanks to the composer, Johnathan Geer.
This places me in an interesting position because I love Cook Serve Forever's concept. A coming-of-age story about an up-and-coming chef yet with the pacing of a slice-of-life story. The last "slice-of-life" I featured here was something that I felt captured the genre perfectly. Lake wasn't a perfect game, but it earned the five-stars for doing what it set out to do and more. Unfortunately, with only 25% of the game's story complete, it will take a while to see what becomes of Cook Serve Forever. On the official Steam page, the developers say they are going for an Early 2024 release out of Early Access. Until then, I'll withhold from speaking on any harsh critiques.
I would love to see the gameplay fleshed out more aside from "play one location 20 times until you get a shiny medal saying you 'mastered' it" but I trust that there will be lots more content added in Cook Serve Forever. While there isn't a playable demo yet, there is an active Discord where leaving it as a recommendation may be a good idea to help spread awareness! I'm optimistic for this game's success and the glaring kinks can be ironed out over time. I should check out the previous games in the series to become acquainted in the meantime.
Cook Serve Forever is currently available in Early Access via Steam.