The world’s kookiest cook has embarked on a quest to make it from lowly roadkill flipper to head chef of a swanky five-star restaurant. He’s sloppy and rather on the ill-mannered side, and who knows where he ranks on the cleanliness scale, but this Mad Chef (Out Now, $0.99) does have one thing going for him. There’s no doubt that he’s banking on his colorful food preparation style, making his assistant toss ingredients into the air where he can nail them with a range of sharp implements. Customers are already lining up; all that remains to be seen is whether the player can fling enough knives, screwdrivers, tire irons, and more, to help the chef build his imperial franchise.
We explained the gist of gameplay in our hands-on preview, and suffice it to say Foursaken Media has found that magic balance between an action-packed feel and casual accessibility thanks to the one-touch control for launching the chef’s cooking implements. Mad Chef adds yet another dimension to its appeal with incredible depth; when he or she isn’t cooking up a storm, the player is busy scoping out restaurant upgrades, new recipes to offer customers at higher prices, new cooking implements to throw, and new locations that can be added to the franchise.
Some tycoon sims in this vein do themselves a disservice by having the player dig into the nitty gritty management of raw materials at cost, but Mad Chef kindly sticks to permanent upgrades. Just about everything the player splurges in-game cash on creates a feedback loop, growing the amount of cash the player rakes in with each restaurant session. Send the assistant chef out for a cooking class – don’t worry, it’s a rather quick process clocking in at about two seconds – and he’ll return with a knack for greater efficiency in the item stream he tosses out; a bigger refrigerator has to be purchased so the restaurant can offer more advanced dishes. The upgrade process is a restaurant-by-restaurant affair, so the player has entirely different cooking implements and dishes at each location. My only real beef with the game is that the effects of new throwing implements are unclear in the upgrade shops — all other possible upgrades have detailed descriptions that let the player know exactly how they’re going to benefit the Mad Chef’s pocketbook.
Since the preview I’ve come to appreciate Mad Chef’s truly excellent approach to gameplay balance. Every cooking session concludes with an evaluation of the chef’s performance based on throwing accuracy and orders missed, and a good showing adds to the current restaurant’s reputation on a five star scale. For each star earned over time, the player confronts one more customer line at that restaurant — raising the location’s financial potential, but also challenging the seasoned player’s powers of concentration. If you get too flustered trying to manage all the simultaneous orders at a five-star restaurant you’ll quickly lose that fifth star, which brings the game’s difficulty back down a notch until the player re-earns it. In this way, Mad Chef manages to go easy on beginners and hard on veterans without explicit difficulty modes. And if you want to let off some steam after all that taxing concentration, Mad Chef wisely follows in the footsteps of Bag It! by serving up bonus sessions where the player can go bonkers and destroy every foodstuff in sight!
Mad Chef’s controls are simple and spot-on everywhere it counts; I was especially surprised by the player’s ability to hit ingredients that are just about to fly right offscreen. Things do get a little wonky in an achievement hall where the player has to swipe up and down to walk forward and back, which I found a tad unintuitive. While In-App Purchases allow the player to buy in-game funds and reputation outright, there’s little motive to do so — earning those things normally is where all the fun lies. Mad Chef does something particularly interesting in rewarding the player for keeping the game installed: check in every day, or just every once in a while, and you’ll find some bonus cash sitting in the Mad Chef’s bank account!
Mad Chef’s graphical style is rather uncanny, ’tis true. The boxy models and food splatter all look beautiful in motion, however; watching that assistant dive in to catch pinned ingredients with all the skill of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat never gets old! Each restaurant has a completely different motif and the assistant’s costume evolves to match, which keeps things looking fresh. On the visual downside, items are often tossed out closely together in the ingredient stream, leading to overlap and model clipping. It’s worth noting that the game does a surprisingly good job of interpreting which ingredient the player means to target in these cases, but just having to pay closer attention to determine what the overlapped items are, exactly, makes this aesthetic quirk unwelcome.
Foursaken also did standout work in the audio engineering department. Customers toss out complaints and accolades so the player has a good idea how things are progressing without having to look at the customer line. Mad Chef has a limited soundtrack, but its main menu assists the player in building an iTunes playlist if so desired.
Mad Chef will last just as long as the player continues to be entertained by the upgrade process and zany gameplay. In any case, it would take eight hours or more to master the five restaurant locations currently on offer, and it’s clear that some form of surprise content expansion awaits in updates. This may involve cooking for zombies — and given the gory way normal food already splatters in this game, I’m not sure I want to think about what the new haunted house restaurant will entail exactly.
iFanzine Verdict: A standout among tycoon sims for its simultaneous accessibility, depth, and pseudo-shoot ’em up feel. Whether you’re into upgrade-heavy time and resource management games, or just looking for the next zany action title, Mad Chef won’t disappoint.