There’s something rather delightful at the heart of Little Dragon’s Café. I’ve spent a good majority of the year playing some heavy indie titles and emotionally burning myself out. To get prepped for the upcoming gaming season I’ve decided to primarily focus on games that will lighten the load in terms of games that are just that – fun, interactive experiences that I can fall into without the fear of getting too weighed down by a potential punch to the gut. I was hoping that Little Dragon’s Café would be the tonic I needed, what with its rather cool pencil based art style and quirky cast of characters.
It’s a cross between early 3D Zelda levels – bright, colourful, full of hope before the storm – and Harvest Moon that is about as enriching as you would expect a mash up of those two to be. Rightfully so of course, Cafe’s designer is Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada, his influence scattered across this game like flour spread across a kitchen table. You play as either Ren or Rin, twins who live and work at a small cafe – you can change their names if you so desire – and have to learn how to run the business after your mother becomes ill and you inherit a pet dragon who could be the cutest character video games have produced this year.
Little Dragon’s Café then has all the ingredients of a meal you should savour into it’s all done, and the hope indeed was that the game would be full of depth and have a rich narrative. Unfortunately the final meal isn’t anywhere near as refined as you would expect coming from such a strong pedigree. In reality, it just feels a little bland.
The little dragon of Little Dragon’s Café is rather irrelevant, despite being a fun companion and wishing he was real. He doesn’t really do an awful lot of anything, save for helping you move things and using his waste to farm (yup). There’s a neat little touch where you can heal him by giving him attention (something more games need, imo). There’s just not enough for him to do to give the sense that he’s entirely needed, and his appearance in the games title is a little bewildering because of this.
If you have any kind of experience with Harvest Moon you’ll feel right at home here. The first hour or so is a bit of a head scratcher but nothing overwhelming. You’re placed on this little corner of land which you can’t fully explore until you knock out some story checkpoints and is as colourful and spritely as you would expect. You can explore the immediate area to find recipes, ingredients and the like to add to your pantry. You don’t have a huge amount of options as you explore so you’re left to shake trees, pick up fragments of recipes (collecting a set of four will allow you to assemble something new to add to your menu) inexplicably placed around the world seemingly out of nowhere. You can also fish with about as much depth as its required to do so in Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. It’s all very basic, which is probably by design, the issue caused from this is that I never felt connected to the world. I never really felt like the cafe was mine.
Visually, as mentioned above the game has a neat art style which is certainly pleasing on the eye, sadly the lack of polish with little bugs and some terrible pop-up drags back the experience somewhat, making you fall out of the escapism rather quickly.
The cooking itself isn’t all that exciting either, your Overcooked knowledge isn’t going to help you here. Instead, you’re going to have to remind yourself how you played Guitar Hero with each recipe requiring a rhythm based minigame in order to complete an order. You’re able to add whatever you make to your menu if you’re happy with what you’ve created. The cafe’s reputation is in your hands at this point, so using high-quality ingredients and the success of your rhythm based alchemy will factor into whether or not your customers will return.
It’s a shame then that regardless of what you make the customer reaction is damn near always going to be more or less the same regardless of what ridiculous concoction you choose to throw together. There’s very little you can do to mess up in the game and whilst that adds to the somewhat relaxed nature of it all, it doesn’t ever feel like you’re achieving anything if there’s no real way to fail. The more I navigated my way through the game I realised that I can’t steer these characters into any kind of direction which would require me to dig myself out of a hole or to build my way back up. There’s very little peril and it makes the entire experience really rather uneventful.
Little Dragon’s Café is out now on Nintendo Switch.
Developer: TOYBOX Inc, Aksys Games
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional code for the game from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.