Are carbs making a comeback? Not long after the release of Cake Mania 3 comes Cake Shop, another time management game that sends players to the bakery. I should say upfront that while Cake Shop is a decent game on its own, it doesn’t really compare to the length, depth, or difficulty of the Cake Mania titles. That said, it does have its own personality, and it’s easy and relaxing to play.
Cake Shop starts off by introducing Emily, who is searching for an interesting and challenging job as a Cafe Manager. She gets a call from Gail Davis, who has a position available at the new cafe she’s just opened, so Emily catches a flight and starts on her new life. The story isn’t expanded much more than this, and the dialog is slow and simple, so the focus is really on the gameplay.
When the game begins, customers come into Emily’s shop requesting cake. The cakes are a bit weird, consisting of two sponge layers with thick jelly in between. To assemble them, select the bottom layer first, and then select the filling and top layer. If you make a mistake, you can trash the error in the recycle bin, or put it on the display table once you’ve bought one.
You can increase your mastery (shown as a thumbs up rating) as you play. Serving customers faster increases this skill. Fittings will open up as your mastery increases. The "fittings" button allows you to buy new items for your shop. A good variety of equipment will increase the cafe’s rank (shown in the star rating), and subsequent income.
Once you’ve bought a few fittings, you’ll be able to serve customers other interesting items, like various sodas, cotton candy, popcorn, and ice cream. All of these upgrades require a two-step assembly process. For example, making vanilla ice cream involves inserting a cone in the correct ice cream machine and waiting for it to fill up.
The last three fittings you can buy are flavored creams, which can be added to the tops of cakes and ice cream. It’s a good thing these are last, since they are the most problematic. The difficulty is due to the fact that it’s very hard to see the underlaying cake or ice cream type when the cream has been applied, which can lead you to make incorrect orders, losing customers and lowering your service performance. On the upside, the creams require you to process items on the fly, making the pace a lot more hectic.
In addition to upgrading the shop, you’ll also need to create a home for Emily. Emily gets homesick after a few levels, but luckily her boss Gail’s brother is a construction engineer, and she offers to help her build a new home near the cafe. Click the "construction site" button to go to the building site. You can buy Emily’s dream home in bits at a time, starting with the foundation and finishing with a pool and garden.
Building the house affects Emily’s mood. Her mood is directly connected to the patience level of the customers. Once the house is built, she’ll stay in a "great" mood permanently, so it’s helpful to complete this as early as you can.
The in-game tutorial is pretty good, and the rules are simple enough. The strategy is also transparent, and relies mostly on filling up each station as soon as you serve a customer, so your speed never slows down. On the whole, the pacing is pretty good, keeping the player busy but not overwhelmed. However, it never quite reaches the “frantic” pace, and it’s pretty easy to beat without any need to replay levels, so experienced players might not feel as challenged.
There doesn’t appear to be a set number of levels. After you’ve gotten 5 stars and fully upgraded the shop, you’ll be asked to earn $3,000 more. Once you do that, you’ve beaten the game. All in all, it took me just 2 and a half hours to beat the game, which was kind of a let down. One expects at least 4 hours from a casual game, especially in the time management genre where many games are longer.
The music reminded me of what you hear in an elevator, or maybe at the supermarket. It’s not bad, but it’s not exciting either. With the exception of the “cream” issue mentioned above, the graphics are pretty good, combining 2D backgrounds with 3D characters.
While it’s not quite as involved or complex as some of the more recent time management games we’ve seen, Cake Shop does add some interesting concepts to the genre, such as the influence of Emily’s mood on the customer’s patience levels. If only the length was an hour or so longer, it would be a good pick for folks that want a simpler time management game.