Given that Cake Mania 2 was a good, but not stellar, follow-up to the original Cake Mania, Sandlot Games had something to prove with Cake Mania 3. The result, happily, is a sequel that has enough new features to justify a purchase even for fans that have already played through the first two.

The story picks up as Jill is about to embark on the next exciting phase of her life: marriage. As she’s coping with last-minute wedding preparations, however, disaster strikes. The Time Bender artifact, which Jill received at the end of Cake Mania 2, accidentally shatters into several pieces, and when her family and friends each grab a piece to try to put it back together they’re each transported back in time to a different period of history. Taking the final Time Bender fragment, Jill must travel to each time period to find her loved ones and bring them back — by baking cakes.

Players can select which time period to visit in any order, but once the selection has been made they’re committed to playing through all levels in that location. As you visit ancient China, Olde England, revolutionary France, ancient Egypt and the Stone Age (plus a secret sixth location), you’ll meet a different set of customers for each location, including the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Emperor Napoleon in France, wizards and witches in Olde England, and dinosaurs and cave men in the Stone Age.

As in Cake Mania 2, customers will occasionally appear in locations where they don’t belong, but this is at least explained by the fact that the Time Bender is malfunctioning.

Gameplay is still fundamentally the same. The goal is to build the cakes that customers request, which involves baking the basic cake shape in the oven, adding icing and perhaps a cake-topper, delivering it the finished cake to the customer before they get impatient, then collecting the money they leave behind. Customers will eventually order double-decker and even triple-decker cakes, and coffee.

Chaining commands together doesn’t earn you any bonus cash, but it will eventually activate a Sugar Rush mode that causes machines to spit out cakes with no delay. There are also power-ups unique to each time period, such as Ra’s Gift, which lets you keep the bakery open a little longer and a Club that lets you bash customers on the head to persuade them to accept any cake.

Money earned can be used to purchase a wide variety upgrades for the shop, such as faster icing stations and ovens, better shoes to make Jill move more quickly, and different cake-toppers to rack in bigger tips. Thankfully, you get to keep all of your shop upgrades when you move on instead of starting again from scratch each location, and what’s more, you can also rearrange the layout of the kitchen by dragging machines to where you want them.

Despite numerous similarities, Cake Mania 3 is clearly more of a departure from Cake Mania 2 than Cake Mania 2 was to the original Cake Mania. There are several unique customer types that behave differently and actually force you to alter your strategy when they’re around. For example, Robin Hood steals money off the counter, dragons will order more than one cake, witches will turn other customers into monkeys (which changes the type of cake they want), and if the French emperor shows up you aren’t allowed to serve anyone else until his needs are met.

These new customers go a long way towards spicing up the gameplay, which admittedly starts slowly until you’ve earned enough to purchase a few of the upgrades like the ones that make Jill walk faster.

Cake Mania 3
also offers three new mini-games. Two involve assembling cakes from pieces on a conveyor belt (which is ho-hum at best), but the third, where you must recreate a wedding cake from a photograph by selecting the correct icing and decorations, is quite entertaining.

Other extra goodies include a wardrobe where you can swap Jill’s outfit, a trophy room,  the ability to download additional locations through Sandlot Connect, and a wedding cake creator where you can create a cake from scratch (even using the trophies you’ve earned as cake-toppers), then email a e-card with a picture of your cake on it to friends. This is a neat idea for birthdays and other special occasions, but for whatever reason the service wasn’t working for me when I tried to send a card.

It’s obvious that Sandlot Games learned a few lessons from Cake Mania 2 and has made a concerted effort to make Cake Mania 3 a more evolved experience with several tweaks and additions.

In some ways I wish they had gone even further. There is some overlap among customers – the Chinese and French emperors both exhibit the same behaviour, for example. The story, while it does give the gameplay context, still feels a bit tacked on despite the welcome addition of voice-overs and animation. The conveyor belt mini-games weren’t particularly captivating, and you’ll still find yourself accidentally placing one cake on top of another or having to awkwardly juggle cake pieces because of the inability to swap cakes with both hands.

In the end Cake Mania 3 doesn’t reinvent the wheel after all, but it does pack in a significant enough number of new features to make it a decent follow-up to the mega-popular original.