All those casual games you've been playing on the web, either for free or at a cheap premium, are finding a home on the casual-friendly Nintendo DS platform. Cake Mania might not look familiar to console gamers, but a gazillion downloads off the web should be a good indication that it's got a certain gaming appeal. Majesco was right there at the pouncing for publishing rights, and the original PC game got the dual-screen, touch screen makeover in record time. The entirety of the game's charm has certainly been retained in the portable conversion, and its gameplay core is deceptively frantic and challenging. It's just a shame that there's not much else beyond its rising difficulty curve.
The challenge is simply to keep up with the demand of your customers. They'll wander in for some cake since that's pretty much all you're selling. Customers need to be attended to as quickly as possible or they'll get ticked off and leave; it's about keeping an eye on their needs and making sure they leave happy enough to pay for the cakes and offer some tips. New customers need menus so they can place an order. When they do, you need to make the specific cake they're ordering: shape, frosting color, and decoration all must be perfect or they won't take it -- if that happens you'll have to toss the pastry away and eat the cost...and risk not making enough to reach the level's quota.
Cake Mania could be considered a game design inspired by some of the classics out there. It's one part Root Beer Tapper and one part Pressure Cooker, all handled by the simplicity of touch-screen control. The original PC game was entirely click-based, so having the design move to the DS makes a whole lot of sense since the stylus replaces the mouse icon oh-so-well. Tap on the customer, tap on the cake shape, tap on the frosting color, tap on the decoration. The game will queue up your tasks in order so you can keep up with the mob of grannies, jocks, and Easter bunnies pushing through your front door.
It's a simple idea and simple design with a concept that's easy to grasp. And despite the game's cute and adorable and (for lack of a better word) "girly" visual style it gets tough as balls later in Cake Mania's progression. But there's just not much to it beyond its core gameplay, so the only thing you're really shooting for is the ability to give a harder level a try: essentially tougher to please customers and more demanding cake designs. It's an old-school style of game that has appeal...just in tiny shots. The package needs a little more to it -- even Tapper gave the player a break with a "shell game" challenge between levels. The only breaktime here is a strategy element where you buy additional equipment to keep up with the customers.
The move to the Nintendo DS wasn't entirely clean, though; the touch-screen interface is easy to follow but the small "buttons" are not easy to tap in quick succession. The designers also went with a kitchen that's larger than the display's resolution, which forces important information off-screen when it has to scroll to follow the player's character. The DS developers do put both screens to good use, however, utilizing as much visual real estate as the system offers.
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