Hands-On Preview: Little Dragons Café (Switch)

Dragons, cooking, farming, and a whole lot more!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 07/25/2018 06:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Be sure to read our interview with Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada and Aksys CEO Akibo Shieh!

After my interview with Wada and Shieh, I moved my attention to the demo of Little Dragons Café. I sat down on a cushion in the large suite, Switch in hand, and launched straight into the game. From the outset, players are asked whether they want to play as one of two siblings: Ren or Rin. Pick either the brother or sister, respectively, and the other becomes the helper in the café. The story begins with the twins waking up in the morning, ready to head downstairs and help their mom with the shop. It’s at this point that the game turned control over to me and I was able to start exploring.

The action in Little Dragons Café takes place from a third-person perspective. During my session, I was able to experience two distinct styles of play: one inside the café, the other outside of it. While inside, patrons enter the café and sit down to have a bite to eat. The player is in charge of manually tackling multiple different duties while working the café. The primary goal (at least to start) is to provide service to the different customers. An icon blips to life over their heads once they’re ready to order: approach the patron, take their request to the kitchen, and then get cooking.

In an effort to spice things up, Little Dragons Café sets the player to actually prepare the customers’ meals. The first recipe for a Sunny-Side Up egg is insanely simple, but it introduces the mechanics that (hopefully) will become more nuanced and complex as the game progresses. In a nutshell, Ren and Rin cook via a “Rhythm Action” minigame. The “notes” are the ingredients, and players must tap the corresponding face or directional button in sync with the music in order to produce meals. A post-cooking Dish Evaluation is based on how well the player follows along to the beat as well as the quality of the ingredients used. My Sunny-Side Up order was a hit and the customer loved it!

Turning now to the outside of the café, things change considerably. That includes the main character’s clothing, which becomes his or her Adventuring outfit. On the Field, there’s a lot to do and see. Ingredients can be obtained from a myriad of different sources. They can be grown, of course, but there are also bushes and shrubs that contain a variety of items; they can be spotted by the halo of butterflies that hover above them. Plucking resources in this way requires time to pass in order for them to regenerate. It’s also possible to fish, forage, and gain ingredients from animals on-site behind the café. At the beginning, exploration is limited, but I remain eager to see what’s out in the wilds of Little Dragons Café‘s world.

Did I mention there’s fishing? That’s right, cast a line whenever the noses of a little school of fish are cresting out of the water and… wait. As soon as the lure goes underwater, a thought bubble with a double “!!” will appear over the character’s head, at which point a quick press of the “A” button will secure a fish. This action, like cooking, felt very simple, but at this early point in the game I’m willing to be patient because I hope that as I spend more time with Little Dragons Café, the more challenging things will get. Still, if anything is clear about Little Dragons Café, it’s that Wada and company want players to be sucked into its world and care about the story and cast.

I must admit, it didn’t take me long before I found myself rooting for the kids and their mom. The café is homey and warm, but by no means extravagant (although I can’t think of many small homes that have an elevator, but I digress!). The family is simply doing its best to get by and the genuine sense of caring and love between everyone was apparent from the start. Not in a nauseatingly mushy way, though. This is wholesome without smothering everything in syrup and honey. Wada is clearly going for the sort of “all ages” approach with Little Dragons Café that Nintendo is known for.

This approach is cemented with the sudden, tragic discovery the next morning that the kids’ mom is in a coma/deep sleep and won’t wake. The night before, the mother alludes to a mysterious predicament that she’s been struggling with since she was a child, but she neglects to tell Rin and Ren anything else about it. Thankfully, once the twins find their mom in her new, perilous state, a strange old man (who goes by the name Pappy) appears out of nowhere and fills them in as to what’s happening. The mom has a mix of human and dragon blood coursing through her veins, and the only way to wake her from this slumber is to raise, well, a dragon!

Conveniently, Pappy has a dragon’s egg to share with Ren and Rin. He tells the duo that if they feed it and love it, the dragon will grow and they’ll be able to help their mom. One quick breakfast later and suddenly the egg has hatched and Draco the dragon is part of the family. Feeding and raising Draco is the other, primary gameplay fixture within Little Dragons Café, so expect to spend a lot of time getting to know the affable creature. A lot sure does happen to these people within the span of 24 hours! Hours pass within the game world, I might add, meaning players can look forward to a day/night cycle as part of their explorations.

I’ve lavished a lot of praise on Little Dragons Café so far, but I do have some reservations. The storyline is quaint, fun, and fantastical, striking a nice balance that shouldn’t spurn away even the most jaded of players. Little Dragons Café starts out a bit dour, what with the mom’s sudden plight, but somehow the tone remains hopeful. The kids have a job to do and I know they’re going to get it done. My concerns are thus centered on the mechanics of it all, more than anything else. There were frequent load screens as I played. Whether they’ll be minimized in the final build or while the Switch is docked is unknown. While the load times weren’t atrocious by any means, having to pause with every transition from inside to out, and from scene to scene, was a drag. I also do hope that there’s enough meat to tasks like cooking to make them feel like a genuine complement to the gameplay as opposed to filler.

Beyond those concerns, I have a lot of faith that Little Dragons Café is going to be another winner when it hits Switch. Its visual style is delightful, with a fascinating scratchy, sketchbook-esque quality that I couldn’t get enough of. There’s a lot of different things to do and see, and that’s not even counting raising a living, breathing dragon. There’s also plenty that I haven’t seen, including a bevy of different creatures and characters that push the fantasy envelope perhaps further than Wada ever has in his career. Wada’s knack for crafting mesmerizing, engrossing worlds is undeniable, so here’s hoping that Little Dragons Café is able to keep that trend alive when it launches on August 24.

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