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Cooking video games were something of a misnomer, that is before the launch of the Nintendo Wii and DS. Since then we have been treated to all manna of culinary challenges - from the minigames of Hell's Kitchen DS to the complex task driven Cooking Mama DS and Cooking Mama Wii.
Order Up is one of the first games in the genre that focuses on fun rather than novelty. It combines restaurant management with some solid cooking gameplay without much of the fuss of other cooking titles.
Mini games come in a variety of shapes and sizes. What unites the genre is the speed with which players can pickup the games and the relatively short time required to complete a level or two.
Order Up is unique because it focuses on simple cooking themed fun rather than education or complexity. Games such as Cooking Mama DS try and recreate the experience of cooking and are accordingly complex. Here though the focus is on running a restaurant, so the cooking itself rarely extends beyond five steps.
Each cooking step involves preparing or cooking a particular ingredient. Peeling a lettuce, slicing a tomato or grating cheese are all achieved with different flicking motions of the Wii-mote. Stirring, tossing, simmering and the like involve slower gestures from the player.
The challenge of the game is to prepare the ingredients in the right order, so they are ready together and the meal can go out piping hot. This meal management is matched by the wider restaurant running theme. Here, you develop you establishment's menu, ingredients and staffing to ensure customers have the best experience. Success enables the player to move onto new larger establishments.
The game develops by allowing the player to learn new dishes, add extra ingredients and tailor meals to the tastes of particular customers (medium, rare, burnt etc). As they are able to charge more for the food an army of kitchen staff can be hired and assigned particular tasks during service - here again they need to be managed to ensure the right chef is assign the right task.
We don't often talk about graphics, but here they give the game a really distinct feel. There is more than an ascent to Matt Groening (of Simpsons fame) that gives each character a unique look and feel. The restaurant itself, wider world map and cut scenes all adopt this same style and give a good sense of coherence - that particularly enables younger players to get involved in the on screen action.
My wife's a trained chef and hasn't got on with other cooking games - particularly the ones that tried to recreate a genuine cooking experience. She liked the fact that Order Up was content to be a video game - each level is clear and understandable without getting over fiddley.
Once she got past the fact that many of the dishes she could make in real life she had to re-learn in the game, Jo really got into it and we played for a whole evening. Taking in a string of orders, planning how to deliver them all on time, prepping and cooking ingredients from various dishes and ensuring they come together at the same time is great fun. Seeing your food on the plate and getting good comments back from diners is even better.
Each round involves a servicing customers during an evening in your restaurant. This is usually four sets of orders, each of which can be up to three meals. This takes around 15 minutes to complete, and with the other bits and pieces involved before and after takes the minimum time for a session to half an hour or so.
As players progress, adding dishes to the menu, ingredient options and kitchen staff they will want to experiment with herbs and spices and hone their skills. This takes a little longer - sessions of around an hour usually sufficing.
Very young players are likely to find the kitchen management and accurate timing a little too taxing. Those a little older (Junior school up) and those who can play with a parent or older sibling should find a fun and rewarding experience.
Intermediate or occasional gamers will enjoy the wider strategic features of Order Up. The purchasing of ingredients, hiring of staff and selection of dishes will tax even the most efficient of players. The comedic art style and tongue in check dialogue also endear the game to an older audience.
Experts may find the game a little simplistic with the limited number of combinations of dishes and patrons. Those looking for fun rather than challenge though should find plenty here to entertain.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: