Imagine yourself in line at the counter of your local bakery; waiting quietly while the staff carefully apply icing on the top of your order, eagerly anticipating the taste of that first slice as they box up the cake you requested, and finally hearing the resounding chime of the cash register as you walk out of the store. It is easy to understand the customer experience, but have you ever wondered what it is like behind the scenes?
Baking games are a unique type of cooking-related games. Unlike the cooking game genre where there is plenty of emphasis on the recipe and how to prepare a dish, the time management based cake games prefer to take on the challenge from the mindset of a store owner: managing tasks, queuing up the work load and the mad pace of keeping up with an avalanche of cake orders.
For most people outside of the food industry, it is hard to understand what the world is like from behind the counter. Sure, we may have all spent a considerable amount of time in the kitchens of our own homes, but there is nothing like the combined pressure of being able to provide both great customer services with delivering an equally great product. With the challenge that cake games provide, these demands tend to be met by only one person: you.
This is something that is admittedly surreal about cake games: the fact that most of these titles have only one character per store. For the most part, players will find themselves controlling only one player character - one that will handle every single task available. While this setup does give you a good idea of what the basic kitchen tasks are (from preparation to decoration), it also makes one acutely aware that in real life, this is a job for more than one person alone.
With that said, now is the perfect time to get revved up and ready to go as we visit some of the most iconic bakeries released in the casual video game genre. It is going to be messy, and you might even end up with icing all over, but keep your toque straight and mitts on tight as this is one trip that you will certainly want to finish down to the last crumb.
Of course, no cake game overview would be complete without a trip to the Evan's bakery. This game has had its share of fans and critics, and for a series that has been around for almost half a decade, that is quite a resounding success.
For now, just ignore the fact that this game has managed to spawn several sequels and simply nourish the classic of a cake that is before you. The graphics are old and awkwardly animated, and the overall feel is outdated, but that does not remove the fact that it still has one of the most solid gameplay systems around.
So coherent and well thought of is the original Cake Mania game engine that it is still the same gameplay system used by the rest of its sequels and by many other titles. Run around the bakery, hand out menus, and make cakes based on the images that pop up in the customer's thought bubbles. It is a pretty simple concept, but it also provides the perfect base layer for what can be a truly inventive game. While it is a shame that the original Cake Mania had not perfected the recipe it introduced, it certainly stands out as the one that started it all.
Now this is a great slice to bite into. Cake Mania 2 takes all the great gameplay elements of the first title and stamps it with great visual flourish and an amazingly deep and intricate storyline.
Now, you might easily understand how a casual title might be praised for its gameplay and graphics, but a deep storyline outside of a mystery/adventure title is often unheard of. Such was the case until Sandlot Games introduced Cake Mania 2 and its multi-branching storyline and six possible ending scenarios. The delivery for this is simple: players get to choose from a variety of paths which determine which stages they play next and of course, the direction that the story will move. This cake games title also provides small in-game trophies to encourage players to see all endings - further adding to the replay value of this game.
In terms of play control, the game has been pretty much loyal to the original, adding very little to the mix, but the gameplay itself has become a lot more intricate with the arrival of special customer characters whose unique demands and variable patience meters means that players will have to learn to adjust their workflow in order to accommodate priority orders.
While the Cake Mania series focused on moving a character around the store, Cake Shop takes on a different approach: how accurately can you click? The game takes on the behind the counter experience in a different light: you are the chef. You will not be seeing a character avatar here, no perky, bright eyed protagonist urging the story on, just the basic layout of the kitchen and a horde of customers eager for cake. It seems odd, but it actually works as you find yourself focusing more on the gameplay challenge as opposed to being distracted by all the little animations that litter other titles.
Still, the formula for Cake Shop is the same as any other, customers line up and you have a limited amount of time to prepare the right order. The big catch is that the challenge has been cranked up a few solid notches above the other cake games on this list (with the exception of Jessica's Cupcake Café), and players will need to act fast and think ahead in order to keep up with the demands of the intense demands of the later stages of the game.
The third installment of the Cake Mania series was a bit of a letdown for us who were pretty big fans of the first two games. Sure, when you look at the overall picture, CM3 is still an improvement over the first two titles. The only real issue is the awkward storyline that has had us wondering if the creators have decided to let a bunch of preschoolers handle the plot.
While it may seem odd that there is focus on a plot for a time management game, we have to remember that Cake Mania 2 introduced a branching storyline with multiple endings - this has provided CM3 with a tough hurdle to overcome. Sadly, Jill Evan's time travelling misadventures are so out of place with the first two titles and such a misdirecting force for the entire series.
The good thing here is that since not a lot of people mind the plot, we can still focus on the gameplay which is pretty much a humor filled version of the first two titles. The gameplay is as solid as ever and for fans of the cake games series, this continues the story of Jill Evan's life, we point that out because fans will certainly not want to miss out on the wedding of their favorite heroine. No spoilers as to who the lucky groom is, you will have to play to see it for yourself.
The one thing that we did not appreciate much from the original Cake Shop game was the fact that the graphics certainly needed a lot of help. It ranked pretty much on par with the first Cake Mania game despite the fact that it appeared on the scene at a much later time. Cake Shop 2 takes care of that little issue by including some of the most well made graphics for a cake game.
Nothing extra-ordinary here, there is still a lot of sprite based animations and the same store layout. The makers of Cake Shop 2 however, have taken the visual style to a whole new level. Gone is the cardboard cutout feel of the original game, instead we are treated to a more refined (but still cartoony) look reminiscent of old Bullfrog Games like Theme Hospital.
The gameplay has stayed pretty much the same with the old point and click command system with one little exception: the difficulty bar has been raised. Cake Shop 2 now features a steady conveyor belt where you will find all the cake layers, cups, cotton candy wants and more. Not quite a practical approach to a kitchen, but one that increases the difficulty to a whole new level. For every time an item is taken off the line, the set behind it moves forward, players will need to strategically look for sequential combinations that will help them make the correct cakes faster, however, mistakes are more likely to happen with over-clicking and could cost you valuable time.
The fifth Cake Mania game offers more of the same addictive cake serving action we have seen in the previous installments. For those wondering if the series is suffering from the lack of innovation - it is not. While the system for the Evans Bakery has not changed much, there are new gameplay modes that players and fans of the series will certainly enjoy.
Much like Cake Mania 4 - Main Street, CM5 brings new stores for players to tinker around with, mainly, the Gordo's Pizzeria and Risha's Boutique. The Pizzeria takes this title beyond the usual borders of cake games while the Boutique is a whole new experience entirely -dealing with retail fashion.
The plot focuses on the arrival of a movie crew that is having their shoot at Bakersfield and how Jill and her friends are boosting their businesses in order to take advantage of the increased consumer population. Behind it all however, Jill is also pregnant and preparing for the birth of her children (the game's collectible trophies are actually toys for the baby room).
Spicing up the game's challenge are various customers whose different behavior patterns and special abilities will for players to alter and change their strategies on the spot. After all, when you have got a vampire, a mime and a camera man on your customer queue, you need to be able to adjust quickly.
With "To the Max" the Cake Mania series has finally been able to establish its position as one of the most successful casual game series to be released. After all, nothing says success better than being able to release a prequel!
Technically, Cake Mania - To the Max is not exactly a prequel, the game does start from a future timeline from Lights, Camera, Action! But Jill's decision to go reminiscing on every little item on her scrapbook gives the game a perfect reason to look back and show us where it all began.
The game still brings many of the new features found in the fourth and fifth cake games installments, and the art is thankfully, also updated. Still, there is something remarkably retro about this new title. Be it the big hair and the tacky earrings on Jill or the gaudy fashions that the customers sport, it is hard to deny the old school atmosphere in this title. But all that graphical glitz tends to get pushed into the background as To the Max brings to us one of the most frantic Cake Mania titles to date. Sure, the later stages in most games tend to get fast paced and pretty busy, but Cake Mania 6 brings the challenge early on.
Getting into a game genre dominated by a single title is no easy feat, and Cake Mania is one tough series to contend with. But when a developer is able to take all the best elements of gameplay and deliver it with a solid engine, easy controls, great graphics and a composition with cohesiveness that simply draws you in, then you just spelled out the recipe for Jessica's Cupcake Café.
Sure, there is nothing one could call inventive about this new addition to the cake games genre, but Cupcake Café directly addresses certain gameplay elements that other titles have not tried before, in particular: queuing. Admittedly we can all decide the order to tasks that will be accomplished on the top of our heads, but actually being able to input sequenced commands into the game is a real breakthrough in the cake games arena and is similar to what you can do in Airport Mania and Airport Mania 2.
Of course, the added ability comes with a catch: there is no undo button. This means that the game is pretty strict about accuracy and precision in both planning and actual mouse handling. Plus, the time constraints on this title are a lot more unforgiving than in other cake games, further pushing the difficulty to a level that even a hardcore player will find challenging. All that, combined with some of the best drawn graphics for this game category certainly makes for one of the most must have time management titles to be released.
Of course, it would be silly to try and take all of these games in just one go. Choosing which title suits you best is a matter of determining the various gameplay factors for each game. For the most part, the first Cake Shop game is a great start off point for new players. The challenge level is easy to contend with thanks to the easy learning curve and there is no 'expert' rating to think about - something that first timers will appreciate.
Those who are a little more familiar with time management titles would certainly want to try out the challenge of Cake Mania 5 - Lights, Camera, Action! or Cake Shop 2; choosing depends on the type of challenge you are looking for. The CM title offers variety and a constantly changing pace which is good for players who tire easily of repeating the same thing over and over. Cake Shop's sequel is a straight up challenge that sticks to the basics of the genre.
Players who prefer a good story will want to try out Cake Mania 2's multi branching storyline. The game's multiple endings will certainly keep you coming back for more (at least six times over), and the well executed game engine keeps the pace upbeat. Keep a pen and paper on hand when it comes to checking out the stage maps in order to keep track of which decisions you have already chosen or passed up on your first playthroughs.
For hardcore gamers, Jessica's Cupcake Café is our top recommendation. The graphics are well made and cohesive, not to mention the fact that the line art for this one has been nicely stylized to fit the genre. Needless to say, Cupcake Café comes with a strong gameplay factor with the help of the queuing system (which should be a must have for other time management titles).
It goes without saying that there is no need to limit yourself to just one of the time management cake games, these game downloads tend to be quite small and the hardware requirements are low (you can even play some of these smoothly on a low to mid range netbook). The question is how much time you have for playing. The one thing we did not mention about these games is that they're heavy on time consumption - and quite successful at that too. Each individual stage for these games are short, some not even going beyond more than two minutes. But the sheer addictive factor for these games is the fact that after finishing one round, you will find yourself unable to resist playing another.
One thing players should remember however, is that in general, cake games are designed for the younger female audiences - this is why there is plenty of emphasis on colors, themes and other aspects that are attuned to more feminine markets than male gamers.
Regardless of player gender however, there is plenty to learn from cake games. Time management titles have a unique way of training the way people think and plan. The reward based system for earning a lot of credits under a certain amount of time encourages people to think ahead when making decisions on what they want to do and how they will get it done. It is a useful skill for anyone at any age and is certainly a great way to hone planning capabilities.
Most importantly, cake baking games (much like real cakes) are naturally fun and addictive to have. The rush can be quite maddening at times, but finishing each stage is like a whole bite of scrumptious chiffon. Indeed, this is one game category where all the choices have proven to be quite temptingly good, and the only real complaint we can find is that all of these games leave us with that undeniable pang of hunger for some real cake!