by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Aksys Games have put together something adorable and endearing in Little Dragon’s Cafe. It’s cute, with an almost pastel art style, but while it starts sweet and adorable, the story twists and becomes dark right out of nowhere. As it turns out, your mother is part-dragon and the blood in her body is not working well together, and she falls into a coma. She may as well be dead. A wise old man shows up to help you figure out what to do, and raise a cute dragon in the meantime. Only through cooking delicious food will this dragon come to full age and save your mother. You farm up ingredients, find recipes, and make people happy with cooking in order to save your mother. You’ll grow your business and your customer base, make awesome food, and ultimately, bring your mother back. If you’re good enough, that is.
Little Dragon’s Cafe combines rhythm games with cooking and restaurant management. You control one of two kids, while the other will help you out around the shop; as you progress, a group of people will come to lend a hand, from waiting tables, helping you cook, clearing tables. They range from a “fantastic” chef, a loser turned “wandering musician”, and a would-be cafe owner. You can’t really do this on your own, or it would turn into a cute, but equally frustrating Overcooked!, and while I like that game, the pace and frustration is not for me. You do have to work fast and diligent in Little Dragon’s Cafe, but for the most part, your allies will work hard and get things right. But that’s not always the case. They act like people, and sometimes they’ll get an order wrong, get lazy and choose simply to do nothing. You can talk to them and hope they’ll straighten up, or you just have to deal with it.
The tutorial is a little on the long side, but there’s a lot to learn in the game. It’s not as hard as it sounds, but you have to learn that exploring in the world around you is where most of your ingredients come from; all about the recipe parts (which you gather four of and the Old Man will put it together for you); feeding your dragon and why you need to do it (which I’ll get into); and how the sausage gets made. When you’re doing the cooking portion of the game, you’ll take an order, run it to the kitchen, cook the dish, bring it out, talk to the customer, clear the table when that person leaves, rinse and repeat. I say “talk to the people”, because if they’re satisfied, they often give you other ingredients or things you need to make more food. This is also when you learn that when you cook a meal, you have a little rhythm game where you press the arrows at the right time. The better you do, the better the quality/type of food you get. You can also get “rare” ingredients if you use dragon manure on the farming nodes in the world. Yes, dragon poop is an excellent growth hormone for your foods. The stress and challenge for me are “Are my ingredients and timing good enough? Is this howling jerk going to like my soup or am I going to have to make it six times?”
When you aren’t serving food or dealing with lunch or dinner rushes, you’ll be in the world, exploring with your pet dragon. Your dragon has a stamina meter, which can be increased by petting him (which makes a cute little chime and the dragon smiles, which again, adorable). Feeding him dishes you’ve cooked also has an effect on him. It can change his color and look, restoring far more stamina. It’s all about balancing your time wisely. Keep an eye on the clock and do some exploring and farming when you can, and as you complete more the story, more of the world will be open to you for new recipes and ingredients. Next, the cafe is also a farm, where you can use manure to increase the time in which you can farm, which gives a ton of ingredients, from eggs to vegetables. There’s also a fishing harvest, and you can actively fish in certain spots in the water. The only frustrating thing at first was your chicken only lays one egg at a time, and in the early going you’ll need more. Once you see chickens in the wild though, you can bring them home and for a limited time, they’ll increase your egg quotient. For the most part, the movement in these areas is quite good, but I did have some issues with the camera sometimes going out of control and just spinning around and around, which made me a bit dizzy. So, you’ll want to spend some time each day gathering more and more. I hit a point in about chapter 2 where I did not suffer for ingredients for my meals.
In your menu, you’ll also see the dragon’s status, stamina, how much manure you have, how many of the ingredients you have (up to 160), how many recipe fragments (up to 400), and how many restored recipes (100), as well as the Cafe’s info, staff condition, and reputation. You want to keep your staff happy and relaxed, so you need to work with them, talk to them, and do your fair share of the work. As you make high-rated items, rare dishes, and serve what your customers want in a timely manner, your reputation will grow, your restaurant will grow, and will even hit a point where people can stay overnight in the upstairs area. There will be blocks in the story before you can progress, where you need to cook a certain meal at a certain rating before continuing. If it’s not up to their standard, you have to redo it. That just means you might have to go farming a little longer for more stuff. It’s not really that hard if you spend plenty of time gathering dragon poop, holding onto those rare ingredients, and using them at the right time.
Little Dragon’s Cafe is challenging without being frustrating. It’s been a whole load of heart-warming fun. The stronger your dragon is, the more you can explore, and you can bring food with you to feed him periodically. There are wild, dangerous animals that you need to avoid, but eventually, that dragon will be a serious boon. When he can fly, there are even more zones to explore, recipes to get, and so much more.
Cooking is Friendship, Cooking is Love: 4.5/5 (Great)
I love everything about Little Dragon’s Cafe. It’s an adorable game, the challenge ramps at a decent pace, but preparation and farming will be to your benefit. Even the graphics are adorable. I do wish there were a deeper OST, but I like what’s on offer. The characters you encounter all feel very real; some are selfish, some arrogant. But you have to bring them all together to help you raise this dragon and make your cafe a success. It started kind of slow, the tutorial holding your hand pretty hard, but I fell in love with this game very quickly anyway. The dragon’s mega cute in its early stages, and while I still am in the process of completing the game, I’ve really enjoyed my journey. The rhythm part took a bit of adjusting too because the timing felt slightly off, but that could be just me moving from Yakuza Kiwami 2’s karaoke to this. The difficulty felt pretty reasonable, but I spent a lot of time using my manure wisely to hold onto rare dish ingredients. I got frustrated not being able to jump over certain things in the terrain (like the corner of a bridge, for example), but it did not take away from the charm of the game. There are few things in life that feel more rewarding than cooking some delicious for your loved ones, and I think Little Dragon’s Cafe highlights that nicely.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.