Take a business simulation like Chocolatier and combine it with a time management title such as Cake Mania and you’ll end up with something like Vanilla & Chocolate, a hybrid restaurant game that fuses these two concepts together. Is it a case of two tastes that taste great together? Yes and no, as a few gameplay and technical issues left a bit of a bad taste in our mouths.
OK, so it’s not the most inventive name, but at least with a title like Vanilla & Chocolate you know you’re managing an ice cream store. In the main Story mode, you enter the “Ice Cream Master’s Apprentice Competition” and are tasked with running an ice cream parlor.
It might sound like a straight-forward Cake Mania or Diner Dash-like game, but there’s a lot more to it as you must first purchase the items to sell, examine your daily finances, adjust spending based on customer feedback, and other number-crunching and budget tweaking in order to turn a profit. The Free Play mode, which has you handle a never-ending stream of customers, is unlocked by finishing one of the three main locations (school, amusement park, marina club).
Before you start your day at the store and cater to customers, gamers can scan the “popularity index” to see what flavors are all the rage these days. You’ll start off with the basics like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry (but will soon raise enough cash to purchase new recipes) and index will show something like 50 percent of people are expected to buy chocolate, with 25 percent split between vanilla and strawberry. This tells you how many of each flavor to buy before the doors open.
Plus, you can also see the temperature outside (in Celsius or Fahrenheit), presumably telling you to buy more ice scream if it’s going to be hot as hell. While you’ll need enough ice cream and other items to get you through the day, don’t buy too many items you won’t sell.
As with many time management games, customers pour in and you must click on each to hand them a menu. Once they decide what they want you’ll see a graphic appear near their head (like a speech bubble) requesting a specific flavor, number of scoops, cone type, toppings and other items (such as a soft drink). Now you must make it quickly for them or they’ll leave the premises.
Click on the cone, then the right ice cream bin and finally the ice cream machine thingy to create the masterpiece. Give it back to the customer in a timely fashion and they’ll leave you a shiny coin on the counter (gold if you’re good, silver if you’re slower). Your goal could be to make a certain amount of money, add new ice cream recipes to your recipe book or increase customer satisfaction by 30 percent.
Naturally, things get a little hairy when there are four of five people in line waiting for their dessert. But in due time it’ll be the end of the day and you’ll get all kinds of information and stats to peruse over. so you can see how to do a better job the following day. In fact, you’ll get some feedback, too, such as “improve your service,” “upgrade to a faster machine,” “buy more toppings” or “spend more on marketing” (clowns or a taste booth, perhaps?) and so on.
You can also examine your Finances page, which is a little confusing to navigate with all the tabs on the screen; it basically boils down your performance into income, expenses, cash and net worth, as well as info on customers, your daily goal, your rank in the academy and charts of your work.
Then it’s on to the next day, so you might “recycle” some ice cream flavors to make room for new ones (which sounds funny to me.. .”recycle” ice cream?), but again, the interface is hard to catch on, even with the lengthy tutorial screens. Expect a bit of a steep learning curve to feel your way around fluctuating prices, borrowing cash (if you need to), new items, upgrades, and replacing older flavors with newly unlocked ones.
Aside from the tedium of managing the money and the not-so-intuitive business screens, the game does suffer from a few technical issues. For one, you’ll have to sit through some lengthy load times between levels. It’s not that bad, but I’m not sure if this game was optimized before it launched. More importantly, perhaps, are some random bugs in the game you’ll likely encounter including getting kicked out to the customer screens without clicking anything or trying to minimize a small window (by clicking on the slit in the top right corner) but nothing happens. In other instances, I clicked a specific ice cream flavor but nothing came out until I did it a second or third time.
Production values are a mixed bag: the graphics are decent and characters are smoothly animated, but the elevator Muzak gets annoying after a short while and the lack of speech makes the game feel empty.
The idea behind Vanilla & Chocolate is a good one, by merging two complimentary casual game genres. And hey, who doesn’t like ice cream? But the execution falls flat in a few ways, resulting in a mediocre experience that could’ve been a much better one with more time and polish.