24 May 2018
Hell’s Kitchen is other people
A new order’s just come in. Quick, get to the storage room and find the ingredients! Wait, we’re out of pasta – you’ll need to go shopping! But don’t forget to put that pulled pork in the oven before you go, otherwise it won’t be done in time. Hold on, the dishes need doing first. Add that spice! Best hire another chef if you can. Too late, we’re out of time! That customer’s not going to be pleased.
This is Kitchen Rush: a real-time co-op game that captures the hectic, chaotic, non-stop tension of working in a restaurant kitchen so well you’ll feel like you’ve worked a ten-hour shift at the end of each four-minute round.
The game’s ingenious trick is that it turns the static, ponderous meeples of other worker-placement titles into sand timers that must be hurriedly relocated around the kitchen, collecting and cooking ingredients to fulfill orders while also finding time to juggle various other chores. The roughly 30-second hourglasses are flipped when placed on a space at each station and must remain there until they run out, leaving their controlling player to quickly pick up diddly ingredients, order cards and general micromanage in the ensuing seconds-long gaps.
Putting together a plate of food is relatively simple: you take the order at the door, grab the right-sized plate, head to storage to collect the combination of meat, veg, cheese and whatever else, add any spice that might be required to bring the flavour up to scratch and finally pop the whole thing in the oven for however long might be required, from a single quick heat to a minute and a half of real-time roasting.
long the way, though, there’s plenty to screw up. You might accidentally add meat to that veggie burger, cram an entire roast dinner on a side plate or burn that beef carpaccio to a crisp. These things happen under pressure, but they’ll cost your restaurant prestige, making it harder to achieve the objectives required to immortalise you as a master chef. Meanwhile, your workers will need paying, so don’t expect to hang onto that money for long – fail to pay them and they’ll quit, making future rounds even tougher. Gather enough prestige, though, and you’ll unlock bonuses that accelerate your restaurant into the echelons of culinary excellence.
There’s a lot happening in Kitchen Rush – this is not a game for those unable to think fast – and even the lower difficulties can be punishing, but the streamlined loop of preparing dishes makes for a lot of fun moments, even when you’re failing miserably. Optional event cards make things even more chaotic by causing equipment to malfunction or workers to come down sick, and help to stop the tight pool of actions becoming too repetitive. At under 20 minutes for an entire playthrough, the momentum is so quick you’ll probably too focused on peppering that Moroccan lamb tagine anyway.
With such delicious gameplay to chow down, it’s a shame that Kitchen Rush’s visuals are so naff. Parts of the game still resemble an unfinished prototype with boring and even downright ugly design aspects, and there’s none of the diverse glee of the recipe cards – which list specific meals and their accompanying side dishes – in the identical player chef boards, stopping the game’s charm and character leaving as much of an expression as they should. There’s generally a low level of quality across the components, such as thin boards that feature plain black backs, adding to the feeling of being an amateur project.
Most disappointingly, this includes the sand timers key to the game’s wild urgency, which include varying amounts of sand – publisher Artipia has said that this is to account for differently-sized holes, and that all timers should take between 25 and 35 seconds to finish (10 seconds can be an age here), but the varying sand levels and cheap production means that it’s often inconsistent and hard to judge during the bustle. (You’ll need to provide your own phone or timer to count down the four-minute rounds.)
Even with these flaws, Kitchen Rush’s go-for-broke pace and manic co-op cook up a feast of laughs, gasps and final-second cheers. Rather than a refined Michelin-star plate of immaculate morsels, this is a fast-food guilty pleasure: messy, uneven and probably not all that good for you, but undeniably hard to resist.
Presentation and production problems hamper the overall experience of playing Kitchen Rush, but it’s hard to care when you’re in the middle of the fray, trying to cook up a delectable meal as plates go flying, workers quit, ovens break down and you can’t find any bloody cheese.
Designer: Dávid Turczi
Artist: Gong Studios
Time: 30-45 minutes
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