Cuisineer Review – Not Good Enough For Seconds

Cuisineer Review - Not Good Enough For Seconds

In a gaming space dominated by more graphically intensive multiplayer games, live-service experiences complete with microtransactions and the Four Horsemen of the gaming apocalypse sitting in Early Access, It was difficult to see how a small, isometric food-based roguelite game would succeed.

Then the developers at BattleBrew Productions had an idea…what if it had a waifus, tasty looking food, and the enemies you killed became ingredients in your restaurant? It’s these ideas that made me take notice when I played the demo back at PAX Australia in 2022.

Welcome to the world of Cuisineer, a wholesome food-focused roguelite where you play as Pom, a young adventurer turned restaurateur who’s daily struggles include slaying enemies, running the family business, and paying off their previously accrued debt. But will this game fry up a tasty meal that makes me come back for seconds, or did the developers bite off more than they could chew? Only one way to find out!

Cuisineer starts out with our main character Pom returning after a short-lived adventurer’s lifestyle to check-in on her parents and see how her hometown of Paell has changed since she left. Unfortunately the only thing she finds is their family owned restaurant being closed for business, and her family is now deep in debt. Now, she must re-open the restaurant, returning it to it’s once-former glory. and have this debt paid off as quickly as possible.

To get this done, Pom uses her previously acquired adventuring knowledge to collect ingredients from the land and its inhabitants. Pom pursues adventure in the world outside Paell, wielding her cooking utensils against giant chickens, artillery shrimps, fire-breathing peppers, and other pesky perils, all while sipping boba tea along the way. When she comes home after a long day, it’s time to cook up a frenzy and grow the once thriving eatery into a sensational restaurant that will make Pom’s parents proud.

The first thing you’ll notice with Cusineer is just how pretty the game is, and it’s cartoon-y artstyle expands to every element of the game. From the monsters in the dungeons, the town of Paell itself, and most importantly, the food you cook in your restaurant, everything appears to have this great attention to detail that makes it pop in all the right ways. After talking to the developers in 2022, they said they used real world references for these menu items, and it was a contributing factor to the amount of take away orders that were done through the games development.

But before you can start becoming the next Pom-don Ramsay (Pom-ony Bourdain?), you first need to acquire the ingredients needed to make these delicious looking dishes, and that’s where the roguelite aspects of the game come into play. Every time you head into the forests that surround Paell, you’ll be met with a randomised, multi-level dungeon filled with different flavours of enemies to fight through, and plenty of ingredients to acquire. Initially armed with her trusty spatula and set of throwable plates, it’s time to fill your backpack with all manner of gubbins and materials day after day.

The combat of Cusineer is a pretty straightforward affair and a trusty three hit combo is usually enough to dispatch most early foes. On the tankier enemies we have a couple of special abilities that are based on the current weapon you have equipped, and there’s also a ranged weapon for when you need to keep your distance. Pom also has a quick dash that allows you to dodge most attacks pretty comfortably when timed right. This creates a “get in, get out” fighting style that is mostly dependent on the weapon you have equipped.

While it’s initially quite therapeutic to hit chickens with a giant frying pan every 10 seconds or so, the mechanic does lose its charm after the 10th run through the same but different set of dungeon tiles. Running through the same “HYUP HYUP HYAH!” attack combo with 2 special buttons mixed in gets repetitive pretty quickly. While the enemy variety helps to keep the game fresh as you’re always having to dodge or learn a new mechanic, having to go through the same floors over and over again when you already have 50 of their ingredients sitting in storage back home, can also make the game quite tedious.This isn’t really helped by the upgrade paths of the weapons or the general lack of build depth on offer here.

There’s no real variety of “builds” in Cuisineer save for the choice of weapons that Pom uses. Do you want to use a big and slow greatsword sized knife, or a small but quick spatula that allows you to get in and out quickly. Do you want 3 extra damage as an upgrade, or for your attacks to sometimes proc an additional effect? None of this is guaranteed either as you’re waiting each day for the upgrade shop to first be available, and then for the correct option to appear for your weapon. Other upgrades include 5 extra health, or an extra health potion slot on your belt, which admittedly can be quite useful, but once you have those, it starts to trivialise the combat even further.

While adventuring in the procedurally generated dungeons, Death does come with quite a high penalty as you lose all but a handful of resources that you’ve collected along the way. While this does teach you what you need to do differently in the future, its main goal appears to be providing a source of frustration as it wastes time and resources for that day, without any lasting effects. This is because there’s no real time pressure in the game and you can pretty much ignore our favourite debt collector for as long as you need to. The debt itself acts more as a form of soft progression for Cuisineer than anything else.

This is also reflected in other elements of the game and while everything is done decently well across the board, the lack of depth in any one element leaves a lot to be desired. This is especially seen in the town of Paell and its inhabitants. Games like Stardew Valley or Dave the Diver have similar gameplay loops which are then complemented with downtime periods. This is where you get to fall in love with the world that you’ve been dropped into and the characters that you’re spending time with on a daily basis. Cusineer doesn’t really have any of that. While the town is a comfy place to explore, the townsfolk feel like cardboard cutouts with a line of dialogue here and there to fill the void. 

There’s no character development, no one to romance, no development of the town and no bigger goal to work towards, save for paying off a bigger debt. If I wanted to simulate that experience, I would just continue to live my real life! The town doesn’t feel alive, and while the townsfolk names are all very cutely food/drink related, that’s about as far as their characterisation goes.

Speaking of things that are food/drink related, there’s another side of this gameplay loop, which is running the family restaurant and seeing all the tasty food come out for Paell’s townsfolk. As you go through the game you can unlock more and more recipes that’ll need various ingredients from the dungeons that you explore. You get slowly introduced to the various elements of the restaurant, and Pom is a jill of all trades, from running the stoves, to collecting the bill at the end of the meal.

All of this is wrapped up in a frantic slew of singular button presses to make food, collect money and make sure your clientele are happy by the end of the day. This is the only way that Pom can acquire gold for expansions to the restaurant, both functional and cosmetic, as well as bubble tea potions and gear upgrades. All the while not forgetting that ever present debt cloud hanging over you. Now this provides a great repetitive gameplay loop of hunting in the dungeons one day, coming home to store all your gubbins and then opening the restaurant the next day to make money, buy upgrades, pay off some of the debt and repeat.

It’s a simple loop to be sure and I think it accomplishes that goal pretty well. The only issue with this consistent loop was that it stimulated the same feeling that I mentioned with the combat mechanics and the town. It’s all very surface level, which isn’t a terrible thing because it does it quite well, but it did limit my drive to continue playing the game. You have the ability to purchase various kitchen benches to “cook” food in different ways, which sounds interesting and it could add to the complexity of the game as you possibly learn how to complete the prep needed for new recipes. Unfortunately, Cuisineer has other ideas and everything appears to be cooked the same way. You find the pop up option for the desired dish that’s cooked at the specific station, and then you select it… and wait “x” seconds for it to be made. 

While this helps you understand the restaurant mechanic at the start, this becomes incredibly tedious as time goes on. It was at this time when I realised what I was feeling towards the game as a whole. It’s definitely lacking that deep flavour profile that would usually have you coming back for more. People who are looking for extra depth past the initial gameplay loop will find nothing on offer save for some new enemies to fight with a slightly different weapon, or a new tasty picture to look at.

There is plenty to enjoy with Cuisineer if you’re looking for a simple set of primary and secondary gameplay loops to chill out with after a long day. The game is certainly pretty to look at and all the design work that’s gone into the game has definitely allowed people to take notice. Unfortunately, there’s no one specific element that really makes the game shine, and really I think it needed more time in the oven to really bake out those quality of life issues.

Cuisineer was reviewed on PC with a code kindly provided by the publisher.

Have you seen our Merch Store?

Check out our Most Recent Video

Find us on Metacritic

Check out our Most Recent Posts