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Cake Mania Package Art
GENRE
Puzzle
DEVELOPER
Sandlot Games, Digital Embryo
PUBLISHER
Majesco
LOCAL WIRELESS
MULTI-PLAY
No
Wi-Fi/GLOBAL ONLINE
MULTI-PLAY
No
MICROPHONE
No
BUY NOW AT

Cake Mania

As the casual gamer market continues to blossom on DS, launching casual games born before or during the DS's genesis is a natural step forward. Prior to your mom or grandparents getting a DS, they might have had some fun with any number of online Flash or Shockwave-enhanced games such as Bookworm, Bejeweled or in this case, Cake Mania. These vibrant, simple and attractive puzzle PC games were quick to download and only $20 for a full version.

Publisher Majesco, which is now focusing more on budget titles, made an excellent choice in publishing Cake Mania over other potential casual gamer titles from the PC/Internet arena. At $20 for both the original game and its pseudo-sequel on one cart, there's a charming, accessible and immediately engrossing experience within minutes of play. Casual gamers will certainly have something fun to occupy themselves with, and more traditional gamers may enjoy a quick fix, too.

visuals

Cake Mania started out a hand-drawn, 2D Disney-styled affair and remains the same on DS, albeit in lower resolution and with some slight modifications to accommodate the smaller screen. The lower touch screen displays the main game field that was used in the PC version; and exclusive to the DS top screen is a first person view of the customers, their current disposition and the bakery's TV. Animation is minimal -- Jill is about the only thing that really moves on screen -- but the action increasingly becomes so frantic that additional distraction would probably be penalizing to less experienced gamers.

For some reason, the main field of play is about 10% wider than the DS screen. This forces players to walk main character Jill to the edges of the bakery in order to scroll the screen and make certain baking tools visible. In the PC version, the whole bakery is always visible without scrolling left to right; the DS's visible limitation creates gameplay-impeding difficulties that may cause frustration.

Bakery customers are attractive but sparse in variety. There are about a dozen total customer types, and only a few of those have alternate costumes when they arrive at the shop. Spread across eighty four levels, the monotony of the customers will begin to set in.

The bakeries themselves are colorful and attractive, though most of the designers' creative energies went into the original Cake Mania title, where gamers can progress through four uniquely designed bakeries. The look of the bakeries doesn't impact gameplay at all, but the variety goes a long way in freshening up the action, especially compared to the bland "Back to the Bakery" expansion pack that follows the main game. "Back to the Bakery" has Jill stuck for years in the same bakery, with subtle, hard-to-notice upgrades sprinkled over the months.

audio

Audio is extremely minimal across the entire Cake Mania experience. There's title screen music, gameplay music and some light voice-acting for the customer-distracting TV. Other than that, there's no voice or sound effects worth mentioning. The main gameplay and title screen music are serviceable, but hardly memorable and entirely ignored after playing for an hour or so.

gameplay

Controlled almost solely by the touch screen, Cake Mania provides a gentle learning curve that ultimately peaks in frenzied, split-second cake making at the highest levels. The basic game mechanics are the same in both the original and expansion pack with a simple storyline providing differentiation.

In the first game, Jill's grandparents' bakery is at risk of demolition because a big box discount retailer wants to bulldoze the property to build a store. Jill takes it upon herself to spend four years at different bakeries earning money to buy the land from the retailer. In the expansion pack, Jill endures a bakery contest in an attempt to win her grandparents a trip to Hawaii. Amusingly, this contest requires three years in game time to complete.

For either version, game levels are split into months of a year, and Jill's required to make enough cash and tips to meet a monthly dollar minimum. Cash earned doesn't actually go back into any kind of savings account; it can be spun back around into bakery upgrades (faster shoes, ovens and frosters, and TV to distract impatient customers) that will follow Jill as she progresses from one year to the next.

The key to Cake Mania is that the customer is always right and will accept no compromises in a cake order. If a grandma wants a red-frosted square with an orange rose topper, that's what she gets. Fortunately it's very easy to whip this up: tap the square cake shape on the oven, wait six seconds, then carry the baked cake over to the froster and tap the red frosting vat. After the frosting finishes a few seconds later, the cake is taken over to the decoration table, where the rose decoration is tapped. Once the decoration is in place, the cake is tapped to be picked up, then delivered to grandma with another tap. The difficulty ramps up when four customers come in at once, wanting subtly different cakes and needing distinctive TV entertainment to prevent them from bolting prematurely.

Each customer announces his or her order via an illustrated dialogue bubble. One of the shortcomings of the lower resolution graphics arises during Easter, since a circular cake and a jelly bean-shaped cake look nearly identical in two layer cakes. The same problem happens again near Halloween, when jack-o-lantern cakes are easily confused with round cakes.

While Jill goes about her business, customers have a patience meter of five stars that slowly erodes to nothing. At one star left, a customer will become visibly angry, may tip less and may just walk out, leaving Jill with an unfinished cake. Unsold cakes take away from the monthly bottom line, so it's essential to get orders right, or persuade a newly arrived customer to choose your mis-creation by leaving it for show in a display case.

Aside from the previously mentioned left-to-right scrolling of the bakery, the other downer is finishing the short but sweet original game to find out that the expansion pack is a disappointing "grind." Jill remains stuck at the same bakery, making moderate upgrades over three years instead of four, and for a far less compelling cause.

Another missed opportunity in the expansion pack is that only one new customer type is added. All the other customers are just like they were before -- asking for the same demographically skewed cake toppers and cheering for the same TV channels.

multiplayer

N/A

overall

Cake Mania's greatest strength is its accessibility, which leads to an uncontrollable desire to compulsively play late into the night, fine tuning your multitasking skills. It's a great candidate for DS's casual gamers Touch Generation line, though for some reason it's not officially labeled such. Regardless, Cake Mania started out and did big on the Internet. To only pay $20 for a portable version that includes both the full game and expansion really sweetens the deal. Puzzle fans and casual gamers looking for an affordable, quick game have a great option in Jill's bakery.

final score 7.0/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."


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