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Cafeteria Nipponica – Review

Kairosoft are known for doing management-lite games. They remind me of Farmville in a way as you are largely hands off but always working towards some kind of numerical goal. Cafeteria Nipponica has finally made its way onto PS4 and is the first PS4 release to be available in all territories. Just what kind of experience does it serve up?

Starting out in a country village, you name your café and select one of three starting menus of food types to choose from. Snacks, Japanese or Western food. From there, your café is open to the public and you have 16 years of game time to move from that tiny café to running multiple large scale city dwelling restaurants. How you get there is up to you.

Opening up your final cafe will take a lot of cash management but as long as you aren’t going nuts, you should get there eventually.

A game play cycle runs a day and night of running your café although a month passes during this time. You select your menu of between 6 and 15 meals that you can serve up from a total of about 80 you can create. You’ll hire chefs to work in the kitchen and their stats decide how tasty the dishes are. They, like your waiter staff, will level up with XP as they work. The waiting staff will learn to carry more dishes, walk faster and charm the guests. Throughout the day, punters will arrive to eat your food and each location you can have a café has a certain demographic. You’ll need to add tables, décor and reasonably priced food to appeal to the popular demographics. The more they like it, the more likely that demographic will spend more money.

At 9pm, the café closes and you’ll have until midnight to get everyone served, fed and paid up before they leave. During the midnight hours, you can either improve your current menu or try to create new dishes with the ingredients you’ve gathered along the way. This could be as gifts from guests, stuff you buy from the overpriced shop or things you find on your quarterly(ish) ingredient hunts. The latter is a randomly generated treasure hunt with some static prizes if you spend enough money in that search. The next day signals a new month and your pursuit of cash continues.

My favourite part of the game is trying to make new recipes. Guests and quests will give you some but the rest is down to experimentation.

This gameplay loop continues for 16 game years. Every April you’ll need to have enough money to pay your staffs annual wage. You can hire specialist staff but they are very expensive so if you do, you may want to put them in the break room to save yourself cash when you don’t need them as they only usually offer a quick win. The main task you’ll be busy with is matching your interior and dishes to the town you are in to maximise profits. As you progress, plans are unlocked and these either let you run promotions to boost sales for a few months or they let you expand the travelling store or your café itself. Each café can expand to a medium or large size or if you’ve outgrown the town, you can move in towards the city where more money awaits.

Cafeteria Nipponica is strangely addictive. I say strangely because you play it passively. I spent more time trying to work out all the menu combinations than really fussing over my café itself. So long as you ran a promotion every few months, the business ticked over. Initially I found the time constraints quite challenging but by the time I had a second café open – the game expects you to flick between them (up to 3 at a time) and soon the game flipped from being a time crunch to being a little too sedate.

Staff gain XP and can level up into better jobs with extra skills and perks. Check out the comedy names.

Whilst I found myself playing it for the first few hours avidly, the end game does feel a little unbalanced and underwhelming. By the time I’d reached the final café stop, I had perfected my menu and it’d take too much money to change it up so I kept the same approach and just had to wait for the money to hit certain levels to just complete the last upgrades. When the game is over, it gives you a final score and lets you continue playing endlessly repeating the 16th year over and over to collect all the menu items and unlock treasures on the scavenger hunts. This would be fine if it all carried over to a new game plus but only the menu items you’ve discovered and your staff carry over. All décor, tables and menus don’t – so that grand piano you spent so long saving for will vanish. This is also a game I had to play muted. The music loop is way too short and too annoying for this genre of game.

One thing I did grow more in love with was the art style though. I was worried that Cafeteria Nipponica might look a little messy but I was wrong. On the PS4 version at least, you can zoom right in (and out) and see all kinds of character details and food details. There is a lot of love and charm given to the character animations and it goes a very long way in a game where you are looking at a single screen. Talking of the game being all one screen, the UI carries over from the mobile version to consoles and it works relatively well. The only time it caused me trouble was when I needed to use the bumper buttons on my PS4 controller to use the actions on the bottom corners of the screen. It felt a bit weird when not all of the face buttons were being used, but its personal preference.

Anyone looking to have a light touch management game could do a lot worse than enjoying this game. It is a little unbalanced, especially towards the end, but it is full of charm to attempt to win you over. Perhaps its a little bit of style over substance but I enjoyed myself. Just don’t expect oodles of noodles of depth.

Cafeteria Nipponica
Final Thoughts
Its mobile roots are strong but there is plenty of light fun to be had serving up Japan's finest dishes.
Charming visuals.
Plenty of menu, ingredient and food combinations.
Managing three cafe's at the same time is quite addictive.
Poor sound.
Feels a little too passive in the late game.
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