8 Hours Later — Order Up!

Cover ImageOrder Up! is everything I want from a video game about cooking. The basic ingredients are always on hand, the diners know exactly what they want to eat, and there are clear indicators showing me when I’m doing great or screwing up.

Compared with cooking in my house — a stressful race against time frequently interrupted by other tasks like letting the dog out, setting the table, and readying a parallel meal for the household’s fussy eater (parents of two-year-olds know what I’m talking about) — playing Order Up! is almost soothing.

The game has you running a series of restaurants to serve tables full of customers. Each table is like a logic puzzle where you are given up to four orders, each comprising four separate tasks. You have to do the tasks correctly but also have to group them so that all the orders are ready simultaneously. (Customers don’t tip well for cold food.)

Star System

Order Up! starts your nameless protagonist (who can be either a man or a woman) at a McDonald’s Burger Shack for a quick tutorial before sending you out on your own. Starting at a diner, you work through four different restaurants, earning stars at each location by buying upgrades and ultimately impressing the game’s food critic. Once a restaurant has received 5 stars, it’s time to move on to a new establishment with new customers and different menu items.

Like GTA3, your protagonist is silent. Unlike GTA3, you can choose to play as a woman.More stars means a restaurant attracts more customers, which means more money to be made and more of a challenge in the kitchen. The money you earn from customers is a scoring mechanic; you earn bonuses for getting food out on time, preparing dishes to appeal to certain customers, and correctly adding spices to make the restaurant’s special dishes.

Many Motions, One Theme

The four tasks that make up each order are a series of mini-games with activities like dicing, boiling, and grilling. The required controller motions are similar enough that you don’t need to learn many new moves between restaurants, but they’re put in contexts that are varied enough to avoid monotony — for example, carving swordfish fillets and cutting apart sheets of ravioli are the same stab-at-the-screen motion, but they “feel” completely different in the game.

Occasionally, you will be interrupted by non-cooking tasks as well. Some of the motions are similar to the cooking tasks (swiping dishes clean and shaking an assistant awake) while others require techniques of their own (sharpening knives and targeting rats in the kitchen). They’re all quick, and none of them are especially difficult, so they don’t interfere with the cooking action.

All the Small Things

The atmosphere of Order Up! really shines. Each restaurant has its own distinctive look while the patrons all dress and behave differently to signify their preferred foods (you’ll be serving a tough, Clint Eastwood-like gunslinger who wants his food burnt and a vampire who wants everything rare, among others). In the kitchen, you can hire assistant chefs to do some of the work for you, and they include an ex-con, a drill sergeant, a former used car salesman, and an honest-to-god helper monkey.

All the elements work together nicely without any one aspect overwhelming the others. The bright cell shading and over-the-top personalities give the game a lighthearted, cartoon feel while the kitchen tasks remain normal enough to keep you from feeling silly. As you work, you hear clinking plates from the dining room and customers reciting their catchphrases. The background music at each restaurant is subtle, providing theme-appropriate ambience without being annoying or getting stuck in your head.

The problem with the game is that it’s too short. Eight hours later, I’ve cleared through all four restaurants and now face the “Fortified Chef Challenge.” I don’t think it will take much longer for me to remove it from my personal “Did not Finish” list.

About B. Indifferent

Bitterly Indifferent is a belligerent hillbilly with a substandard internet connection. He is also a fan of retro gaming who has previously written about the state of games journalism and the intersection of games and family.