Thursday, September 4, 2008

Order Up!

Last week or so, my mom and I went out and bought a bunch of Wii games. One of the games that we got was a game called Order Up! Here is a trailer for the game. It's similar to some of the other cooking games out there, like Cooking Mama, but it also includes an element of time management. Basically, each day, you have customers come into the restaurant and order items off the menu. You then get the order and have to prepare each order. Each menu item has two to four steps to prepare it. This is where the wiimote comes in. You use the motion ability of the wiimote to perform the actions needed. So, if you have to grate some cheese, you shake the wiimote up and down. If you have to flip a steak over on the grill, then you turn your wrist. How well you perform the action determines how good the ingredient is, from perfect down to poor. So, if you accidentally overcook one side of your hamburger, it might come out as only an ok rather than a good or perfect. Then, the quality of each ingredient determines the order's overall quality, which determines how much money the customers pay.

You also can hire up to two assistant chefs to help you prepare items. Each assistant has their own specialty. For example, the first assistant you get, Crispin Brown, is a master of the fryer. If you give him an ingredient that needs to be fried, he will return it to you perfect. Anything else only comes back as good. But, sometimes good is better than anything you might be able to do, such as preparing lettuce leaves.

You also have some chef spices to work with. You can buy spices from Mr. Miyoda at the farmer's market. The spices are essential for Chef Special recipes, which you can also buy at the farmer's market. You can also add spices to change up the usual menu items. Some of the customers have specific preferences, such as Tex Porterhouse, who likes barbecue sauce on everything. These customers will give you an extra tip if you prepare their food how they like it.

There are four restaurants in the game for you to work. Well, actually, five, if you include Burger Face, the fast food place where the tutorial takes place. You start off in Burger Face for the tutorial, then you buy your own diner, Gravy Chug. You try to turn each restaurant into a five star restaurant by fulfilling five requirements, such as opening up all the menu items, buying some Chef Special recipes, and impressing the food critic. Once you have completed the five requirements, a new restaurant opens up, as well as some new choices for assistant chefs. The other restaurants include a Mexican restaurant, an Italian place, and a fine dining restaurant, where you'll prepare things like swordfish and roasted duck and filet mignon. Once you have mastered all four restaurants, you can enter the Fortified Chef challenge to become the Fortified Chef.

I ended up playing all the way through on the Normal difficulty. It took me less than 12 hours of game time to do so. So, if you play straight through, it's pretty short. But, there is quite a bit of replayability in that each time you take orders it is always something different. It is almost like a puzzle, where you need to figure out what ingredients to prepare at what time (e.g. you only have space to fry one thing at a time or grill two things at a time, etc., so you need to plan for those things), what things to pass off to your assitants, etc., to get the food done quickly and at the same time, keeping all the orders hot, to maximize the money you get from the customers. The game does a nice job of adjusting the orders in each restaurant such that in the beginning, you only need to worry about one or two customers at a time so that you can learn how to prepare the ingredients. Then, once you have those skills down, more customers are coming in, and you can focus on the time/space management and division of labor elements.

One thing that I'm a bit unclear about is how much variety you can get out of the spices. The game encourages "experimenting with dishes to make them your own." But, I'm not sure exactly what this does. On the one hand, there are the Chef Specials which are basically normal recipes with certain spices added at certain steps. So, I'm not sure if the experimentation is supposed to help you stumble on those recipes, since you otherwise have to spend quite a bit of cash to buy them at the farmer's market. On the other hand, in some of the Chef Specials I saw at the end of the game, customers were giving me "ingredient bonuses." I'm not sure what exactly that is, but I'm guessing that you can get some bonuses if you use certain spices with certain items or something. I also got the impression that there might be some secret recipes that you would unlock or something if you end up finding them through use of the spices, but I'm not sure if that is true or just wishful thinking. If there are secret recipes, or even if there are "ingredient bonuses" for using the spices, that experimentation would add to the replayability. If not, then it might eventually get boring making the same things over and over again.

One thing I forgot to mention is the sense of humor in the game. Each of the characters, including customers and assistant chefs, have unique personalities that are usually pretty funny. Every time one of your regular customers come in, they will give some sort of hilarious one-liner, and their responses to the dishes you prepare are pretty funny as well. The assistant chefs are also pretty entertaining for the most part, except that you work with them so much that you get sick of listening to them after a while.

Some problems the game has, though, are in the mini-games that it includes. Some of the mini-games are optional, but some of them are forced on you much, much too often. Expect to have to wake up assistants who fell asleep on the job hundreds upon hundreds of times, and get used to washing dishes for the health inspector and flicking rats away from your equipment, because you are going to do almost as much of that as cooking. Also, while each assistant chef has his or her own speciality, there are definitely winners and losers. The most expensive assistant to hire in the game is a monkey, which should be friggin awesome, because it's a monkey and because he's really expensive to hire. But, when I hired him, I couldn't figure out what he was good at. Nothing I gave him to cook came out perfect, and I didn't notice anything else that would justify his paycheck. So, I was understandably very disappointed...

I would have also loved to see some support for multiplayer. Especially given how they have a Fortified Chef competition at the end of the game, that would be the perfect setting to have some sort of cook-off. Or, it could have some kind of cooperative play, where players help fill orders. The closest the game comes to a cook-off type of thing is that individual players can play a mode in which you just fill one order, instead of going through the whole story. But, this mode is pretty weak, in that you can only prepare normal menu items, no Chef Specials, and there's not really a clear way to compare how well each player did. It seems more like a practice mode more than anything, and I don't see much reason for playing it other than to just give people an idea of what the real game is like.

But, yeah, it's pretty fun, though, if you are into those types of games. I'm going to try the hard mode and see what that's like. And my mom's playing it, so that's cool. I'd say it would be a decent game to rent, if nothing else, since it is rather short to get through.

Kongai

A game I have been playing for the past few months is called Kongai. It is hosted on a site called Kongregate, which hosts hundreds of flash games. While most of the games on the site are created by outside individuals and groups, Kongai is Kongregate's own. They got David Sirlin to balance the game rules. Sirlin is one of the elite Street Fighter tournament players, and has been involved with balancing some of the most recent versions of Street Fighter. I found out about Kongai from two different source. I have read stuff on Sirlin's website before and heard he was working on a few card games. And I had played other games on Kongregate and seen some posted challenges to win cards for some game that hadn't come out yet. I eventually figured out that they were all related.

Anyways, nobody cares about all that. What is Kongai? It's a virtual card fighting game. Each player picks a deck of three or five characters, and battle until one person's characters are all eliminated. There are currently twenty characters, grouped into four similarly themed groups of five characters. So, you have Martial Artists, Amazons, Villagers, and Vampires. More cards are on the horizon, including Pirates.

Only one character for each side fights at a time. There are two phases to each turn. First, players determine the range that fighting will take place. You can either be close or far. Characters start the game close. Then, the players have three choices to determine the range, stay, close, and far. Players make their choices at the same time, and the final range depends on what the players end up choosing. So, if players both choose to go far, for example, then they would end up at far range. If one chooses far and one chooses close or both choose stay, then the range stays at what it was. And, if one chooses stay, then the range is determined by whatever the other player chooses.

After the range is determined, then characters fight. Each character has four special actions they can perform. Each action has a range at which it can be used, a speed, probability to hit, damage amount, and usually some sort of special ability. So, for example, my favorite character, Popo, has a Slingshot, Poison Dart, Knee Bash, and Herbal Preparations. Slingshot can only be used at far range and only has a 60% chance to hit, but it has a 50% chance to triple the damage it does. Knee Bash can only be used at close range and has a chance to interrupt an opponent's attack if the Knee Bash hits first. Poison Dart can be used at any range, does a minor amount of damage, but has a chance to poison the opponent for a few turns. And Herbal Preparations adds an additional chance that any attacks will poison the enemy, as well as a chance to heal Popo for some damage.

In addition to the four special abilities, players can choose to switch out the active character. So, if you have a bad matchup, you can bring in somebody who will do better. But, to counter that, players can also choose to intercept the enemy for a large amount of damage. So, every game includes a couple rock-paper-scissors decisions where you need to decide whether you should switch out, or whether not to because your opponent will guess that you are switching out, in which case maybe you should attack, etc. Finally, players can choose to rest, which allows characters to recover a certain amount of energy. Each character starts with 100 energy. Changing range costs 50 energy, and each special ability costs a certain amount of energy. So, that's seven options for the second phase of players' turns. Again, the decisions are made at the same time, then the actions are carried out according to each action's speed.

On top of that, each special action has a certain type, either physical, light, or dark; each character has specific defense against the three types of attack; each character has a special ability (e.g. Popo has a 25% chance to dodge physical attacks); and there are items that each character can equip (e.g. I like to equip Popo with the Elusive Feather, which grants an additional 25% chance to dodge physical attacks). So, each turn you must weigh all of these factors to decide what to do. Usually, really damaging attacks cost a lot of energy, and there's the chance that the opponent will try to change range on you or try to switch out, etc. It might sound like a lot to think about, but it really is a whole lot of fun once you get to know all the characters and items. It is incredibly satisfying when you outthink your opponent and intercept them when they try to switch, or use an attack that they weren't expecting you to use.

So, if this sounds interesting, head over to Kongregate and check it out. You'll need to create an account there. I would suggest practicing against the computer using some random decks, to get to know all of the characters and items, before creating some decks of your own. Now, here's some of the bad parts: You don't have access to all of the cards right off the bat. You get to start off with three of the forty-six current cards. Then, you have a chance to gain new cards every time you win against someone. There are also bi-weekly challenges on Kongregate where you can win new cards. They basically use that opportunity to promote some of the other games on the site. But, it really is annoying. I guess there is that feeling of reward whenever you win a new card. But, I would rather be able to play around with different ideas for decks right away instead of having to wait for weeks or months to get my hands on a specific card I would need. And people are always complaining about how often new cards get rewarded, of course. Because of this system, this leads to another problem, in that this encourages people seeking cards to beat up on the easiest targets out there, namely the newer players. So, it's sometimes hard to start winning right away because you end up playing people with items on their characters when you have none, for example. You don't have to take every challenge from players, but this leads to a problem later on, in that once you are good, then you have to wait around a few minutes as people opt of of your challenges until you find someone else who just wants to play instead of fishing for cards.

The balancing is pretty good. There are some characters that seem more useful than others. But, every character has a couple of characters that give them bad matchups. So, there's an added metagame in which you might put into a deck a character you normally don't use all that much simply because the character is a good matchup against an often used card. And, there are updates made to the characters periodically to rebalance and to revitalize the cards.

On the whole, though, it is a fun game, and it has some depth to it in creating different teams of characters and seeing how they do.

I'm back, bitches.

Oh yeah, I have a blog, don't I?