I didn’t know much about Cuisineer when I went to play the demo from BattleBrew Productions at Xseed’s booth at PAX East 2023, other than the game was about cooking. Plus it looked pretty cute! So, I decided to take a dive in and give cooking a while in this Cuisineer preview.
The story of Cuisineer kicks off when heroine Pom goes to visit her hometown of Paell and finds that her parents have closed their restaurant and taken off on a trip around the world. With help from her best friend Biscotti, Pom decides to re-open her parents' restaurant and revitalize the fading town of Paell. In order to do this, she needs to start from scratch, accruing recipes and ingredients as she makes her way through the world.
Cuisineer plays like a combination of Moonlighter and Little Dragon’s Cafe, with combat and equipment progression specifically inspired by Diablo. In between cooking sessions at the restaurant, Pom ventures out into dungeons in order to fight enemies and gather more ingredients as well as more materials for crafting things like furniture. The more ingredients, the more dishes, and the more furniture, the more customers.
Combat is all food-themed and action-based, with Pom starting out wielding a spatula and throwing plates, and eventually unlocking different weapons like a meat tenderizer, egg timer, and salt and pepper shakers, to name a few. The roguelike dungeons are randomized each time Pom enters, and as the game progresses she unlocks new and different dungeons with different challenges, enemies, and ingredients. In the first dungeon, I fought a fair few flocks of chickens but also had to deal with pressure plate traps and spike traps like some kind of Indiana Jones who got lost on his way to the kitchen.
While I didn’t get to see too much of the elemental side of the game, developer Shawn Toh explained to me that instead of the traditional earth, air, water, and fire elements that Cuisineer utilizes different flavors, like sour, sweet, salty, umami, bitter, toasty and icey. My spatula for the playthrough was equipped with the toasty element, which let me set enemies on fire and smack down in big, flaming impact rings.
Cooking during Cuisineer was easy enough, as you simply need to sort through a recipe book, pick what you want to cook and, if you have the ingredients, wait the selected time. What’s more difficult is trying to balance your cooking and customers, as customers will get angry and leave if you don’t give them what they want in an appropriate amount of time, or if you can’t seat them quickly enough. It’s a delicate balancing act that does take a bit of time to get the hang of.
One really interesting thing that Toh explained to me is that, as the developers are Singaporean, many of the dishes that you can cook in the game are actual Singaporean cultural foods, which gives the game a fun and unique flavor, if you will. Personally, I loved it, even though I only got to see a small slice of the recipes available, as it gives the game a much different vibe than the standard European or Japanese dishes that are usually used in games, like fried eggs, sandwiches, ramen, etc.
The feel of Cuisineer is also pretty out of the ordinary. Toh explained that the developers looked at games like Diablo and asked “Okay, what if we made this, but super cute?” and that’s how Cuisineer’s style developed, coined “Yaba-kawa” by the team, short for "yabai-kawaii." The graphics are adorable, Pom is sweet and Paelle is a lovely and delightful small town full of friendly faces and helpful neighbors. The combat, on the other hand, can get pretty brutal, and just because it’s cute doesn’t make it any less hardcore.
I had a blast with Cuisineer, and in retrospect, I’m not surprised, as I am a fan of both Moonlighter and Little Dragon’s Cafe. Running a restaurant while also exploring dungeons is a great combo, and the game’s badass cute style meshes together with the combat and gameplay perfectly. While I enjoyed the demo, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the full game.
Cuisineer was previewed on an early build at PAX East 2023.