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game reviews

Filling a Tall Order

The first time I encountered Cake Mania on my HP Pavilion laptop was during a rather boring homework session when I went to Binghamton University.  I remembered the free games from my home computer, another HP, and decided to browse through my laptop’s offerings.  I was already familiar with some of the games like Bejeweled and Bounce Symphony but for some reason Cake Mania caught my attention.  As the free session (which has not yet ended for me) began, I knew this was my kind of game.  Order fulfillment games such as Cake Mania could be considered a mindless activity but I believe they keep your mind active as there is so much to concentrate on.  In this game, you must have correct timing, memorizing, and attention to details and new arriving customers.  It actively engages your attention, perhaps when you wish to be distracted from more tiring and unfulfilling activities.

In the middle of working on tasks I felt like I was shooting in the dark with, Cake Mania provided a highly structured environment with a clearly defined goal: you play Jill, a baker working to revive Granny’s cake recipes to keep the bakery from going out of business.  A large corporation has moved into the neighborhood and put other small businesses out of business, but Jill is determined to keep her bakery afloat, in honor of Granny.  (Pulls on your small-business heart strings!)  Upon completing the first month, analogously the first ‘level’, a higher ‘Baker’s Goal’ is set, newer, more difficult clientele appear, and the number of customers increases.  From impatient businessmen to Dracula to poor college kids to Santa Clause, Cake Mania creates recognizable characters with a specific way in which they must be dealt with.  For example, the businessmen are often cranky while the food critics yawn constantly – both are best dealt with through cupcakes.  At the end of each month your profit, the amount of customers lost, the amount of cakes lost, and customers’ tips are listed along with a summary of the month.  As you begin the next month a hint is listed, such as buying a Slyder topper when the circus comes to town or a wedding cake topper during the busy wedding seasons.  However, you do not have complete freedom in dealing with everything.  The statistics let you know if you have done well or not and that determines how much money you will have to spend on equipment.  With each passing month, you come to learn in what areas you need to be more efficient and quick, lest you lose customers and then lives.

Along with new clientele Cake Mania provides variety by changing types of cake almost every month.  In December, a customer can get a Christmas tree shaped cake while in October they can get a Jack-O-Lantern.  In February, Cupid often picks out a heart shape while the Easter Bunny tends to like the eggs.  Like seeing different clientele, changing the cakes each month adds the spice of variety any good game needs.  Constantly churning out round or square shaped cakes would quickly lose its fun. 

The other change which occurs every couple of months is moving into a new location.  As Jill earns a better reputation and more money she is able to invest in a new location thereby increasing her number of customers and profit.  You move from a regular bakery to a beach to a casino, and perhaps further, but not much else changes.  The tiny amount of decorations in the field of play’s backdrop changes but Jill remains in the same outfit and the layout of the shop is the same.  However, at the beach the businessmen do change out of their suits and into Hawaiian tee-shirts.

My favorite aspect of the game is in between the levels when you can choose how to outfit your bakery.  The more profit and tips you make the more money you can spend.  In the first few months the provided equipment is satisfactory but as the levels get tougher you must decide whether to get faster shoes, a faster oven, new cake decorations, a cupcake microwave, etc.  This portion of the game allows for some player autonomy and critical thinking.  Should I not buy anything this round and wait until the next to get a new oven?  Would shoes or a faster icing machine be better?  At this moment, the player takes the game into his own hands, often determining the outcome of the next round.  However, it is frustrating that one cannot delete a purchase made, regardless of if it was purchased in that round or the last.  So, choices must be made wisely as to whether a better oven or icing machine would be more useful. 

Upon purchasing a cake display, one of my other favorite parts of the game begins: creative cake decorating.  While the game does not tell you until a few months in how to build two-tier cakes, with experience you can begin doing it almost immediately.  I enjoy quickly building a cake I design.  Plus, the cake display acts as a quick seller – the game says that customers are 30% more likely to buy a cake on display, thereby speeding through your queue of cakes.  Also as the months get more challenging, the display acts as a good place to put your mistake cakes and then later sell them, rather than having to throw them away and lose profit.  Cake Mania provides four shapes of cakes, four colors of frosting, and up to eight cake toppers, if you purchase them.  If you build two-tier cakes you have 256 different cakes you can put on display.  Allows for a little creativity, no?

So, the actions in the game revolve around fulfilling an order correctly and quickly, soothing irritated guests with cupcakes and maybe television, rushing around effectively, and not having to throw away too many cakes.  There is a set time limit for each round during which you must meet the Baker’s Goal, often between $400 and $1500, without losing customers.  If you fail to meet the goal in time you lose a life and must repeat the round.  Unfortunately, you are given little notice of losing the round.  When the food critics come, even if you fill their orders and give them cupcakes you can lose the round without any notice.  I am able to complete much of the game without losing a life but once you start it is difficult to stop losing, especially because there is no sort of obvious gauge of how well you’re doing.  It could be fifteen minutes to closing the shop, you have met the goal, but if there is a long queue of people, you could very easily lose the round.  That is definitely one of the game’s downfalls.

One thing that may bother others but I had no issue with is the incredibly consistent graphics.  Every type of customer is the same, all the brides are exactly the same, all the deliverymen are exactly the same, all the food critics are exactly the same, etc.  Each type of equipment in the bakery looks the same and the layout never changes.  The angle at which you view the shop is always the same – third person point of view and far away from the main character, Jill.  It is an effective angle as you can see all the customers, all the equipment, and all the in-the-works cakes.  The game’s audio is primarily light music and sound-effects for particular actions.  I rarely play with the music audible at all; I find it too bothersome and loud (even if it’s turned down almost all the way).  Again, there is little variety in the audio, as in the graphics.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoy spending half an hour or so playing Cake Mania.  It is a nice break from homework and chores, after work, or simply when I am bored.  I think it is because of the Baker’s Goals, the increasing difficulties each month brings, and the ability to buy new shop equipment that Cake Mania maintains its entertainment value.  I work harder each time I play to try and earn more than the Baker’s Goal while being creative with decorating a display cake.  I have played the game on and off for about two years and it has not yet lost its attraction, and the free sample has not ended yet! 

If you have an HP computer, I highly recommend jumping into Jill’s bakery.  Maybe it’s the idea of endless cakes that first got me, or maybe it’s my life-long enjoyment of order fulfilling games, but Cake Mania is a game that does not get old.  While it is quick to learn (another thing I love; I hate having to go through tutorials!) it gets increasingly difficult to master a round.  As soon as you get good at one thing, another obstacle is thrown at you. 

Who knew cupcakes could help you out so much?

     

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Discussion

One thought on “Filling a Tall Order

  1. I think you really nailed the genre here. These games are precisely designed to fill those dull moments or to give our minds a little break from the monotony of office life. Your observation on this reminded me some of McGonigal. We are familiar with the complaint about office time lost to playing games, but sometimes this complaint can overlook the possibility that a few minutes off-task can refresh us and improve productivity overall. In the respect Cake Mania might be well-designed as it doesn’t sound like a game you’d play for hours.

    Posted by Alex Reid | June 24, 2013, 2:07 pm

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