In the sea of casual games, there are a few franchises that stand out and are known by nearly everyone in the gaming scene. Most have undoubtedly heard of Bejeweled or Peggle, as these are both series that have crossed over and found a good deal of mainstream appeal. Cake Mania is a lesser-known entity but is still a franchise that has seen a bit of success beyond an average casual title. Thus sequels have been spawned, and now we find ourselves at the third installment. Cake Mania 3 manages to be addictive and entertaining for a while, but sadly, the game is a bit of a one-trick pony, and it likely won't be long before you toss it aside in favor of a meatier title.
The story finds baker extraordinaire Jill frantically preparing for her wedding day. In all the excitement, a handheld time machine falls off a table and breaks, and as everyone gathers to pick up shards, they find themselves transported to different eras of history. Jill must traverse the epochs and bring her clan back together using the power of cakes. Yeah, I don't know what baking has to do with time travel either, but at least they're trying to come up with a thread to tie together this nonsense.
At each stop along the way Jill will spend 14 days baking cakes to the exact specifications of the local populace. Starting out, this means that each cake must be the correct shape and feature the proper frosting color, but things quickly get more complicated. Eventually, customers will begin ordering double layer cakes, and they might even demand some sort of topper. Occasionally, they also demand coffee or hot tea, and all the while, they're none too happy about being kept waiting. The faster Jill serves each customer, the happier they are and the bigger tip they'll leave. Screwing up cakes or taking too long causes Jill to lose money, and every day has a specific dollar goal that must be reached if you hope to continue along the game's path. As the levels progress, the orders get more difficult and the customers become more demanding, so speed and accuracy are both critical to achieve success.
Thankfully you're not completely helpless, as the game will let up upgrade almost all of Jill's kitchen equipment. Buy a second oven so you can bake cakes two at a time, and then upgrade it so the cakes will come out faster. The same goes for the frosting stations, and you can even buy a TV or a cookie-baking machine to assuage angry customers. Jill can even upgrade her shoes, allowing her to zip around the kitchen faster so she might keep up with all the orders. The upgrade system is probably the game's most enthralling diversion, and it's actually quite fun to buy new gadgets and gizmos and go from cooking novice to master baker over the span of the title.
While the base mechanics of Cake Mania 3 are solid, the game never really manages to build to anything, and the entire affair quickly becomes rather tedious. Making the same cakes over and over can get quite boring, and in some of the later levels, a single slipup can cause so many problems that you're better off starting over. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that on the relatively tiny DS screen, it can be difficult to make out specific cake details, often leading to the wrong shaped cake or the incorrect topper on some of the more intricate requests. There were even several times when I swore I had made the correct cake and the customer refused to accept it. I have to assume I screwed up somewhere, but when what I'm holding looks exactly like what the customer requested, I'm at a bit of a loss about where things went wrong.
The other big downside facing the title is the fact that upgrading your kitchen is meant to be done in a very specific manner, and not following the game's unwritten rules can get you in a lot of trouble and land you in a spot where the only real option available is to restart the entire adventure. There were entire stages where I would serve every customer exactly what he or she ordered in the fastest possible time without anyone getting angry and cutting my tip, only to lose anyway because I hadn't bothered to buy a coffee machine or cake toppers, which would have been the only methods for me to wring a few more bucks out of my customers, thus achieving the daily sales goal. It took me three attempts to find the right order to upgrade each piece of equipment, but I fear this patience will not be shared by many who try the game. Making the game impossible to beat at a point where a player has already invested several hours is a surefire recipe for angry consumers and lost fans.
Jill's travels take her through six distinct periods, ranging from prehistory all the way into the future, with stops along the way in Ancient China and Renaissance France. Unfortunately, not much is made of these different time periods, and the only real indicator of where (or when) you are is the customers you interact with. While it's nice to serve Napoleon lookalikes and Chinese dragons, it would have been even better if the kitchen changed to reflect the time. Why is my HD bakery television able to broadcast during the time of the dinosaurs? Wouldn't it have been clever to replace the TV with more primitive entertainment, like cavemen bashing each other over the head with clubs? Also, are you telling me the ovens in the future look exactly like the ones we use today? Well, it's good to know that at least cooking appliances have reached the end of their evolutionary journey. I know we don't normally nitpick casual games for their lack of attention to detail, but this is one of those wrinkles which, if addressed, could have considerably spiced up the game.
Cake Mania 3 suffers the same fate as many other casual titles in that it's a delicious treat at first, but after a couple of days at room temperature, it grows stale. The repetitive gameplay, uninspired scenery and punishing difficulty make this a title that very few people will want to spend time on. Now then, all this writing has made me rather hungry, and I think there is a double-layered, heart-shaped, volcano-topped cake around here somewhere.
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