Most themed games have some gimmick that is tied to your progress in the game, like new outfits, trophies or pictures. Continental Cafe, like a handful of other cooking games, offers real recipes from various countries that you can really cook yourself at home. Now, if only they gave the rest of the game that same attention.

Continental Cafe tells the story of down-and-out Laura Speed, who is working at a lowly greasy spoon. One night, after a particularly bad shift, she stops at her local convenience store and buys a lottery ticket – and wins! Finally fulfilling her dream of being able to open her own restaurant, she sets off around the world, meeting world-class chefs and learning their recipes. Unfortunately, shady character Luke is after her, determined she fail (though, even after completing the story, you’ll still be wondering why he’s so cruel).

The story is shown through non-voiced cutscenes with nice, bright cartoony graphics and witty dialog. Everything in the game looks like it has a layer of polish to it. The music, while not anything spectacular, is nice and bluesy for the cutscenes, and changes appropriately – and surprisingly understatedly and without being cheesy – depending upon Laura’s locale.

Laura visits five countries on her adventure: France, Italy, Greece, Ecuador and Thailand. While the food is different in each location, the gameplay is not. Each chef asks Laura to run errands for them, and to return when she’s finished. These “errands” are, of course, our mini-games.

Continental Cafe tries to be clever with its mini-games. Before you arrive in a country, you can play the in-flight mini-game, where clicking on various places of the plane awards you bonus time for completing mini-games, bonus hints or even a chance to visit the cockpit (really? in this day and age?) to win big bonuses. Be careful, or you could potentially uncover a “lose all” icon and lose all that you’ve won to that point.

Each country has five main tasks to complete, categorized by names like “Bon Appetit” or “Surprise!” or the bluntly-named “Logic Puzzle.” Most of the games are identical from country to country, like a sliding puzzle mini-game, a picross mini-game, a Minesweeper-like pathmaking game and a Boggle-style word-making game. In fact, other than the ability to change difficulty level from normal to hard, the only mini-game that changes from time to time is the logic puzzle game. These puzzles range from having to move a couple of coins to change an outlined shape to trying to figure out how to get a bunch of kids and cookies across a street without the kids eating them (think the old riddle of the farmer at a river with a fox, a hen and a bag of grain).  

Should you complete a task within a certain time, you are given a “rain check” which allows you to skip a mini-game of your choosing. You’re also awarded hints for completing games as well, which give you clues for how to complete any task you’re working on.

After you finish the errands, Luke shows up and trashes the host chef’s kitchen, giving you a final challenge of a hidden object game. While not the most challenging HOG you’ll ever play, they do add a nice variety.

Indeed, it’s not that there’s anything actually wrong here. The problem is there’s simply not enough game content. More mini-games, and more variety of them, would have gone a very long way in making a better experience.

However, one nice perk is that, with each mini-game you finish, you are awarded a real, printable recipe to try at home. Each country actually provides a complete menu, with soup, salad, appetizer, entrée, dessert and after-dinner martini. I tried making the French Onion Soup for my wife for dinner (yes, ladies, there is such a thing as a husband who loves to cook!) and it turned out very well.

Be warned, though: some of these recipes are not for the clueless in the kitchen. They can be intricate and involved, and may require a touch of tweaking. The onion soup, for instance, said to sauté the onions on a medium heat for 20 minutes. I knew that would make charcoaled onions, so I simmered them slower on a lower heat, and for longer. Nonetheless, for the adventurous home chef, they are diverse and definitely worth a try. (The Italian lemon curd with olive oil is next on my hit list.)

Continental Cafe is a game that definitely knows its food. There is a lot of love for the subject here, and the recipes alone show this. If there’s a next instalment (and I hope there is; there is a great base to build on) I hope Blue Lizard Games expands the menu in the gameplay department as well as on my dinner table.

Gamezebo tip: If you liked this game, try Hell’s Kitchen, Cooking Academy 2: World Cuisine, and Hot Dish.