Popular as the original proved to be, with a name like Stand O’Food 2, you’d expect the latest time management outing from Alawar to be a bit cumbersome. Lo and behold, suspicions are quickly confirmed, as this puzzler’s bizarre play mechanics, half-baked production values and poor translation job immediately reveal. Thankfully, as with its predecessor, what starts out a clumsy mouse-mashing challenge soon becomes a fun and frantic way for aspiring restauranteurs to practice firing up the grill.

As a nameless chef, it’s up to you to serve a seemingly endless stream of hungry patrons. Accomplishing this task requires navigating a series of conveyor belts, pulling the necessary ingredients (tomatoes, noodles, cheese, bacon, etc.) off each to assemble the specific meals which shoppers request. The faster you do so, the more combos, bonuses and cash you’ll earn towards meeting a minimum victory goal, with customers’ moods dwindling along with a constantly ticking timer.

The big catch is that while you can stack several pieces – buns, cake layers, beef patties, etc. – in your arms, you have to assemble them in a specific order for each buyer. Once complete, you’ll rush towards a heater which automatically cooks the food and delivers it to the requesting party, who’ll leave after paying their bill, with end rewards directly influenced by the client’s happiness level.

It’s a simple enough setup, and the sort conducive to quite a bit of fast-paced entertainment, especially as later levels introduce tougher orders, differing stage layouts and more types of chow to construct. The problem being that the base action’s not only counterintuitive at first (you can only stack ingredients, drop pieces off on plates that act as temporary storage slots or return useless items to the same conveyor they came from one-by-one), but scenarios are also obviously meant to be tackled in a specific order. Fail to adequately plan ahead, and you’ll find yourself stuck, attempting to work within the title’s tight constraints to, say, free a desperately-needed chicken cutlet that’s located five rows back.

What’s more, you have to wait for food to finish cooking, making it possible to address only one hungry patron’s needs at a time. (Although an excellent queuing system lets you start getting another order rapidly revved up.) Because of these constraints, and the need to operate within the confines of the title’s off-kilter logic, the tale proves tougher and less supportive than it could’ve been with a little more testing and tweaking.

Admittedly, the regular introduction of new variables, such as shop-bought bonuses like cola machines to improve customers’ temperaments or teddy bears to help calm fussy children helps keep interest levels high. On a positive note, you’ll also discover that the excitement picks up considerably following the first few stages too. Still, no matter how far you progress, moving from one type of food service to the next, the game’s failings are both consistent and obvious. More distressingly too, like the Pidgin English used within tutorials and menu screens (“When the child playing up and cries his parent’s modd falling down <sic>”), little about the outing’s overall layout makes much sense.

Consider the strange visuals, a collage of attractive map/background screens, ugly character renders and hand-drawn pop-ups forcibly melded into one disjointed whole. Mind the inexplicable range of clients (think priests, blinged-out hip-hoppers, guys in cat costumes, etc.) as well. Requests further run from the strange (whitefish or bacon burgers) to outright absurd (lasagna with peppered pork chops on it), none of which look in the least appetizing, to boot.

Likewise, despite all the showers of shiny coins and cases of cash you’re awarded, shopping for new upgrades like additional plates and snack dispensers simply demands you choose a desired item – there’s no financial trade-off involved.

Strange sensibilities and sub-par sound/music aside, what you have here is basically the half-formed kernel of a storyline and campaign mode wrapped around a decent and subtly-nuanced, if not well-rounded, design. As such, collecting trophies and enjoying over 200 individual scenarios featuring new concoctions, gadgets and extras such as a handy piece-shuffling robot entertains and perplexes in equal measure.

Bearing this in mind, from an editorial standpoint, it’s tempting to rake this flawed little gem over the coals. Warts and all though, between its goofy nature and oddly addictive, click-happy setup, Stand O’Food 2 proves unexpectedly easier to swallow than the average gastronome would think…