Cook Serve Forever
Cook Serve Forever is more of a spin-off rather than a sequel to the famous Cook, Serve, Delicious! games developed by the same studio. It preserves the theme and the core mechanics from the previous games, but it takes the gameplay into a slightly different direction with the addition of a solid narrative approach and a brand new visual scheme, while also transitioning towards a rhythm-based game.
At the moment of writing this review, the game is in Early Access, but the content available is already fully playable and bug-free. As of October 2023, a prologue and two chapters have been released, totaling around 5 hours of gameplay, and another two chapters are planned to be added in the future. In comparison to the series, mastering cooking recipes is not the central focus anymore, and the gameplay is considerably simplified. Fulfilling orders is now done by correctly inputting QTE sequences and thus building up a combo score by pressing the arrow buttons as indicated on the screen, with some of the elements having extra modifiers to make the gameplay not so trivial. You’ll have to alternate simple key presses with longer ones, simultaneously press a specific combination of keys, remember your last key pressed, and twist your brain for those annoying “NOT” modifiers that are randomly added to some of the keys in the ingredient sequence (such as “NOT arrow down”).
One day consists of multiple shifts, and in between these shifts, you can choose one of three possible upgrades that will influence the difficulty of the dishes you’ll get to prepare for the rest of the day. The more difficult the chosen upgrade (for example, playing the rest of the day with three ingredients upgraded to the maximum difficulty), the more XP you earn for that location. Leveling up a location will also increase the difficulty of the QTE sequences needed to cook the dishes available at that location, which in turn will also gradually tighten the reaction times, making it harder for the player to successfully complete one day. What’s nice in all this is that the player has the flexibility of choosing how difficult the gameplay should be, as some of the upgrades you can choose in-between shifts do not add any challenge factors although opting in for one of these will make you miss out on the XP you would otherwise get.
Some might take this as a rather simplistic and repetitive gameplay loop, and while it’s certainly a correct statement, it’s also true that the outstanding soundtrack played during the levels turns it into a very enjoyable and addictive experience. A set of great indie tracks accompany the player while fulfilling orders and a rhythm-based approach could borderline be adopted while pressing the keys needed to cook a dish, although this is entirely optional. The narrative bits that pop up between or even during levels are also a great motivator for the player to keep coming back to the game to explore more of its story. The game follows the journey of a young and passionate cook who decides to take a leap of faith in her life and move with her partner to another city to enter a major cooking competition and find a job at a restaurant run by a renowned chef, her role-model in the art of cooking. All characters and dialogues are also wonderfully voice-acted.
All-in-all, Cook Serve Forever is meant as a relaxing, arcade experience in the vein of Cook, Serve, Delicious! games, although it should not be taken as a sequel to the series, as it wasn’t developed with this idea in mind. While it shares some common aspects and mechanics with the aforementioned games, Cook Serve Forever is substantially different and considerably simplified. I could even say that it’s targeted more at casual players rather than at the veterans of the series because it doesn’t encourage the frantic and quite hectic button mashing which is the series’ staple mechanic. It’s fairly grindy if you want to maximize everything and get 100% achievements, yet I find it a very enjoyable grind because of the excellent soundtrack and overall presentation.
Disclaimer: This game is on Steam in Early Access, which means it is still under development and may change significantly over time. The review was conducted based on the game’s current state, and it is possible that the review may not reflect the current state of the game after updates.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a press preview copy of the game, kindly provided by Vertigo Gaming Inc. via The Indie Game Collective.