I’m not overly surprised that the first game that really captured my interest coming out of a bit of a slump was part of the Cook, Serve, Delicious franchise, but I am a little surprised that it was the third installment this time around. I added Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 to my library sometime last summer, and although I tried it out almost immediately, I bounced off of it hard. I hadn’t played any of the games in awhile, and the changes to the formula felt impossible to handle right out of the gate.
Since then, however, I have spent an awful lot of time playing the second game, and perhaps my muscle memory is a little bit fresher this time around. Yet again, Vertigo Gaming has managed to take the formula, twist it around just enough that it feels fresh and interesting, but still has the satisfying core mechanics which have been integral to all three games.
The first game focused heavily on your own restaurant, with improving it the main impetus of the game. In the second, you still have your own place, but the meat of the game is in the many chef-for-hire levels, where you need to work with a given set of recipes. Now, in the third game, you are running a food truck in post-apocalyptic America, with the help of two droids. Whisk is the perky one, who drives the truck, and Cleaver serves as your kitchen assistant.
Each level is themed in some way, which allows you to choose your daily recipes from a set pool. Holding stations have become super important, as most of your customers will be served from these. Cook-to-order foods will need to be prepared while the truck is moving, and stored until you reach your stop. Once these “special orders” are sent out, all remaining customers will order from the menu of items that can be put in a holding station.
If you’ve played the previous games in the series, customer patience feels obnoxiously low, and that’s the hurdle players will need to get over. Customers expect their food to either be ready to serve or already cooking when you reach your stop. Planning ahead is a huge part of being successful. Thankfully, the game gives you a list of how many orders are expected and – mostly – sticks to that list, so on most levels you can absolutely set yourself up for success while on the road.
Side dishes, however, are gone – every item you serve is ordered individually. Because of this, the new “tipped” mechanic is that all correct orders after you’ve reached a certain streak are considered to be extra delicious and will result in you receiving more money per order. This makes keeping up your perfect streaks (and striving for gold medals across the board) even more important, because making a lot of money is key to leveling up, and acquiring the parts you’ll need to upgrade your truck.
Each recipe is also assigned a value from 0 to 5, with higher values leading to more money per serving, but also being more difficult or complex to produce. Many of the recipes will be familiar to anyone who has played the previous games, but some of the default keybinds have changed, mostly to provide more consistency across recipes. Overall, at least to me, the changes feel like they’ve mostly lead to a smoother experience, at least through the first half of the game, although there are still some recipes I just can’t seem to master. Balancing recipes that can be completed quickly, accurately, and give the most points is a mini-game in itself, but frequently in the later portions of the game, it feels like you are forced to take specific high level recipes to meet the point requirements of certain routes that don’t allow you to bring much variety.
Outside of the base gameplay loop, you will need to make sure you upgrade your truck as much as possible. Later levels will have you dealing with impatient customers, angry customers, and attacks from other food trucks that can take out your holding stations or force you to reroute, changing your incoming orders. Available upgrades will add prep stations, holding stations, increase customer patience, and increase other things like numbers of servings or length of freshness. The game seems to be balanced around getting as many of these upgrades as quickly as possible, so it’s worth making sure you complete all the available routes before traveling into a new area to increase your level and allow you to make more upgrades.
I honestly don’t know if I’m going to want to beat my face against the hardest levels of this one, but I’ve been enjoying my time with it so far. The voice acting of your robot companions is kind of fantastic, if a bit repetitive after awhile. The new recipes fit right in with the recipes I’m used to, and although the changes in mechanics took a bit of getting used to, they’re already starting to feel natural. It’s a solid entry into a quirky but fun series, and I’m glad I gave this one a second chance.