SGN heats things up in the kitchen with their first freemium restaurant game, Mini Cafe

First impressions are everything. If you go to meet that perfect date with bad hair or terrible B.O., it doesn’t matter how good things are after those first five seconds. Mini Café, unfortunately, starts off a bit poorly. But like the lovable guy who just forgot to shower, Mini Café soon doffs its negative first impressions into a restaurant game that’s well worth playing.

The goal of Mini Café is pretty obvious from the title: create, customize and run your own café. From the décor to the menu, from planning layout to cleaning the floors, the success or failure of your café lives or dies with you.

Mini Cafe

The first thing you’ll notice with Mini Café is the incredibly long load-up time. One assumes this is to link up to the Mini Café servers, but it has to happen every time you boot up. It’s not a deal breaker, but if you’re not expecting it, it’s a bit of a turn off. Then, without a word of warning, the game zooms in on the first table in your space and says “time to cook!”

That’s it. That’s basically all it says. A game that has depth and layers needs a real tutorial, particularly to newcomers to social games. Make them skippable if you must for those with experience, but developers need to realize who their audience is. The small icons and small text don’t make matters any better.

Trudging ahead, Mini Café lets you cook, serve and clean. The more tables and serving spaces you have, the more customers you’ll be able to handle. When they’re finished eating, some customers will offer a time via a bubble over their heads. Tap it, and you’ll get the cash.

In fact, the game very quickly gets a bit of a Diner Dash vibe to it – which is not an altogether bad thing. As more and more people start to arrive, you’ll be quickly tapping to make more food on your stoves, tapping to clear dishes and clean the floor, and rapidly adding more stuff to your space.

What you’ll find is that a lot of stuff in Mini Café becomes available in no time flat. Mini Café isn’t afraid to hand out mini bucks (the premium currency) at the beginning to help you expand and get to a point where playing is actually fun. Many social games could learn from this model. Often a game takes a good long while to get its motor revving. Mini Café shows you the possibilities after only an hour and a bit – a very short time investment for a social game.

Mini Cafe

But then, you’ll get hit by your first celebrity sighting. These individuals require special, constant attention regardless of what else is going on. However, if you successfully serve these people, they’ll put their picture up on your Wall of Fame, attracting more people to your café.

Your café also improves the more you improve your cleanliness, atmosphere and recipe ratings. The first category, obviously, is about how clean you keep the place. Atmosphere refers to how beautiful you’re willing to make the space. You should be coordinating the décor to match a particular style, such as French, Italian, Japanese or American stylings – with the food to match, of course. The more items you have, and the better they’re coordinated, the higher the rating. Recipe ratings refer to how well you’ve mastered a dish. The more you cook a particular dish, the more stars you earn for that food item. Max out the star meter and you’ll have mastered the recipe. Mini Café tells you specifically what you’ll need to improve each rating.

The more you continue to play, the more Mini Café begins to show its true nature, as a balance and fun social game mixed with arcade elements. Other than an annoying MIDI music loop that you can really ignore, Mini Café is a really fun game once you give it a fair shake. Give it a little, and you’ll get a lot in return.