Publisher: Majesco Games
Developer: Digital Embryo
Release Date: April 9, 2007
Flash games have been all the craze in the Internet-saturated PC world as of late; the "free 60-minute trial, full game for $20" model is a mainstay of net business these days. Of this lot, the task-based game style has become the bread and butter. After Diner Dash, countless games copied and tweaked the formula to their own purposes, the most famous of which is arguably Cake Mania, which was popular enough to spawn an expansion pack of sorts, Back in the Bakery. Now, if you want to port a point-and-click game to a portable system, where do you first think? The DS, with its touch-screen gameplay, seems a perfect candidate for such a title. In addition, for a $20 package, you get the original Cake Mania and its expansion set. Unfortunately, the design of the conversion leaves a bit to be desired.
For those who don't play this sort of game, Cake Mania is a story that's both unique amongst video games and totally trite and overplayed in this particular genre. You play Jill, a young baker fresh out of culinary school. On her way home after graduation, she finds out the latest super-conglomerate, aptly named MegaMart, has been putting local businesses out of business and then buying them up, devouring them like so many cookies at Christmas. Naturally, it's no big deal until she finds out that one of the businesses that have been shut down is her grandparents' bakery! Thus, a plan is hatched and a game is made. Taking her trusty cake oven and frosting tray in hand, she strives to restore the honor and business of the local bakery.
You'd think, with the machines Jill has at her disposal, it would be a lot easier. There's no Cooking Mama-styled action here, no sir. Instead, you have ovens that bake cakes out of thin air in one of four selectable shapes, frosting tables that mechanically frost those cakes perfectly, and decorating tables that shoot candles and the like up into the air for 10-point landings atop their frosted bases. All Jill needs is a few conveyor belts, and she could be popping out cakes faster than Betty Crocker. If that were the case, though, there'd be no game to play, so instead, the game involves juggling various tasks while keeping your customers happy.
Often, said customers — ranging from little old ladies to jocks to the lord of the night, Dracula — pour in the door in droves, each wanting a different cake with different frosting and different toppings. It's your job to click a button for each cake, frosting color, and topping decoration, all while running around and bussing cakes to their customers and handing menus to new patrons. While this is easy to start, it quickly becomes frantic, causing Jill to run to and fro and quickly becoming an exercise in micromanagement, as she has to focus on several cakes at once, eventually being forced to stack cakes in two- or three-layered tiers.
In addition, there are a few extra things to make her job easier. Along the way, she can purchase a cupcake microwave and a television, both designed to please her patrons; while shoving cupcakes in someone's mouth will generally make them happy regardless of who they are, the TV must be tuned to different channels for different people, and it cannot be changed until its time has expired. Kids and the Easter Bunny will like cartoons, for example, while businessmen and Dracula prefer the nightly news. It's a strange mechanic that takes some experimentation to get right.
However, the experimentation phase is far too short in Cake Mania, particularly with the drastic change in resolution. Many graphics have been somewhat poorly optimized for the smaller screen, causing confusion and touch-screen errors; there have been a few cases in setting up decoration that the wrong tiny icon has been selected, causing a ruined cake that has to be recreated from scratch. Complicating those matters are the fact that the whole Cake Mania screen can't be placed on a single DS screen, leading to a horizontal scrolling that will, again, lead to many nasty slip-ups. In addition, instead of having a single button to click to tune the TV, it's instead worked with the shoulder buttons. Those of you familiar with my reviews probably know why having button presses and touch-screen action at the same time is a bad idea, and it still stands here.
All in all, the gameplay comes down to a repetitive touching of icons in the repetitive menu-cake-frosting-decoration-money order. There's very little deviation from the formula, even as the levels progress, meaning you're basically going to be playing the same frustrating rush from level to level, with the only change being the scenery as you progress to different areas to spread the bakery love. Even the expansion does little more than add more levels and repetition into the mix. The music, the single track there is, won't make your eardrums burst, but that's mostly because it's in the background where you can ignore it. Sound effects are likewise rather grating but not totally bad, but this is one game with which you'll be much happier with the volume all the way down.
This leaves the graphics, which were touched on previously. As stated, the sprites are translated poorly; pixels are jaggy, and details are blurry all at once, giving the whole thing a kind of half-baked feel. On the plus, the colors are bright and vivid, making everything fairly easy to make out, though in later levels it can get almost blindingly contrasted. In addition, the screen panning works very poorly, being totally automatic and unadjustable, making many a mistake practically inevitable, thus adding to the frustration due to the violent difficulty curve.
The DS rendition of Cake Mania is a mixed bag. If you played the PC version and love it, go ahead and give this confectioner's fancy a try. It's not everything that the PC version is, but it'll cost you half the price as getting the full versions of both games. If you're a gamer looking to whet your palate on something new or, worse yet, a casual gamer looking for something to play during a train ride, consider long and hard before putting down money for this. The sharp difficulty curve is enough to scare away all but the most devoted and patient of gamers, and the repetition will lead to the frustration and hand cramps.