"Momentum is important in Cake Mania: In the Mix, paramount even. If you can't maintain it along with a sense of working rhythm, the game will unapologetically eat you for lunch. It's quite humbling, really. On the face of things, this is a game about a hot little baker girl (or boy, or... grandpa?) dashing around to fill orders for cakes. Dig a little deeper, though, and it's a demanding time management sim that just doesn't quit."
Some people use the word "shovelware" to describe almost any game they haven't played that was put together on a small budget. They happily slap the label on all sorts of titles without even bothering to play them, priding themselves on having a nose for sniffing out (and avoiding) the crap that so often lines retail shelves these days. If those gamers ever see Cake Mania: In the Mix sitting on a shelf, they'll walk past it with a self-satisfied smirk or an exaggerated roll of the eyes as if to say "I just avoided stepping in something stinky." And that's fine, really. It's their loss.
For the record, though, Cake Mania: In the Mix is not crap, or shovelware, or a waste of time or anything along those lines. It's not brilliant, either. Rather, it's one of those games that can surprise you with a really good time if you give it a chance. Then you'll probably start playing something else and return to it only occasionally when you're tired of blasting aliens or saving the world from a maniacal god, emperor, wizard or warlord. Most of us with a library of games--or children in the household--own a few games of that sort and Cake Mania is perfect in that role.
Children will appreciate the simple presentation. Menus are cartoony and colorful, as well as brief. You don't have to be able to read much to jump right into the action. After 3 or 4 minutes, in fact, you don't have to do any reading at all. You just bake cakes and serve them to customers, a process made simple by the abundance of cheery icons that express everything much better than text ever could.
The control scheme is also a breeze, though perhaps not as responsive as one might like. You don't need the nunchuck portion of your controller, just the Wii Remote itself. Everything is managed by pointing to different portions of the screen and then pressing either the 'A' or 'B' button as appropriate. This is a port of a PC game that people originally controlled using a mouse, after all. Really the only issue is that sometimes you'll point at something and press the right button and--because the Wii Remote is quite precise--you may nudge away from your intended target in your haste. This can be frustrating and can even ruin any momentum you might have built, but you'll adapt to it quickly and the problem mostly goes away.
Momentum is important in Cake Mania: In the Mix, paramount even. If you can't maintain it along with a sense of working rhythm, the game will unapologetically eat you for lunch. It's quite humbling, really. On the face of things, this is a game about a hot little baker girl (or boy, or... grandpa?) dashing around to fill orders for cakes. Dig a little deeper, though, and it's a demanding time management sim that just doesn't quit.
A typical stage begins with one customer appearing in your humble establishment. You approach him and he places an order, which may take a few seconds as he decides and icons slide into his thought bubble. These will include several shapes of cake, frosting configurations, decorations and possibly even multiple layers. As things start to come together, you can then make the dash for the oven to stick in the appropriate cake, which will take a moment to materialize. While it's doing that, another customer has likely appeared, so then you can take his order and next you have to dash back to the oven as yet another fellow materializes at the counter. Then you're running over to the frosting station to get to work on that and maybe you're sticking another cake in the oven or taking more orders or collecting cash for a previous transaction successfully completed. If you do any of this too slowly, customers and money wander out your door, plus you might have to toss away a half-finished treat because you took too long handling the preparation.
Perhaps that doesn't sound like so much on paper, but the whole process is surprisingly addictive in the same sort of way that sliding a block into place provides so much fun in Tetris. As crazy as it sounds, though, Cake Mania seems to have less down time than most games within the genre. Once things get rolling, they don't really stop. If you make a blunder it can be extremely disconcerting, but you have to move on or you won't meet your goals by the end of a stage and you'll have to try again.
That's another potential point of irritation that the game provides. The default mode of the game finds you progressing through a series of stages, each complete with various income milestones that you have to pass in order to proceed. Thus, you can make every cake perfectly without losing a customer and still fail to pass if you haven't added machinery to make the fancier--and therefore more expensive--treats for your finicky patrons. In the later stages, it's quite possible to miss a huge objective by only a few dollars. If you had finished the stage, that money would have been added to your wallet. Since you just missed it, though, you get nothing.
Money is important, too, since it allows you to purchase upgrades like additional ovens or improved ones. You can also pick up stands for your cakes, a cookie machine, more frosting stations and even entertainment to keep your impatient clients from wandering out the door so quickly. You can always replay an easier stage for more loot--and keep it when you win--so it's not like the developers were worried about balance issues. They just made a bad design decision.
Thankfully, they didn't make any mistakes when it comes to the multi-player mode, which is a riot. You have to start a separate game file when you want to play with friends, but that's fine and understandable because the setup does change a bit. After each player has chosen his desired avatar--which is where grandpa comes into the picture, if you wish it--you'll be taken to a brief tutorial and then you're free to start greeting customers. I played this mode with my brother-in-law and we had a great time. Play is cooperative and up to four people can participate at once. Even with two, things quickly get chaotic as participants trip over one another, baking the same cake twice (and losing profits in the process) or both ignoring customers because they both suppose that the other individual is addressing that particular client. The game really requires teamwork or you won't get anywhere.
Cake Mania: In the Mix proves that porting certain PC titles to Wii is a terrific idea. There's not enough variety to keep the single-player mode addictive in the long term, but the frantic multi-player option makes up for a lot of that. The controls and the visuals may be too simple for some, but they allow for surprising intensity that definitely is at pleasing odds with the cheery presentation. Clearly the game was made on a limited budget and it'll never pass for a blockbuster, but it really doesn't need to because it's still seriously sweet. Like a cake.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 20, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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