Who ever guessed that customer service simulators would become a major video game genre? "Man, that sure was a hard day at work. I think I'll relax by pretending to cater to the whims of capricious socialites! Whee!" It doesn't make sense. But here we are, surrounded by games like Cake Mania and Papa's Pizzeria, games that teach us about the joys of hard work, multitasking, and pandering to spoiled customers in order to get fatter tips.
Sushi Go Round carves out its own niche in the crowded field by taking customer service out of the equation. You are the chef, rather than the harried waiter, and all that matters is getting food to the patrons of your humble sushi shop in a timely manner. You don't even have to carry the food out to them. You have one of those newfangled automated sushi joints, where a conveyor belt brings the sushi round, and the customers feed themselves.
The problem is that the conveyor belt goes only one way, so there's always some guy stuck at the end watching his food get snagged by people who just sat down ahead of him. You'd feel sorry for him, if he weren't blaming it on you.
Each customer has five stars indicating her level of happiness (...with the service, not in general. If one of your customers happens to be depressed in his personal life, it's not your responsibility. Just feed him.) The more stars a customer still has when she gets her food, the larger tip you receive. If she waits so long that her stars disappear altogether, she departs in a huff, leaving a ding in your reputation and a sad song in your heart.
Check your recipe book at the beginning of each level to find out how to make the different offerings on your menu. To fill an order, click on each necessary ingredient, then on your rolling mat. Swish, swack, and the finished platter goes out on the belt.
You'll run out of ingredients fast, so as soon as you have some cash in hand, pick up the phone and order refills. Your supplier will restock you in a few seconds, or instantly if you pay the rush fee. If you plan ahead, you shouldn't have to rush too many orders.
You may also order sake, a Japanese wine made with rice, and temporarily cheer up a frustrated customer by dragging it to his place setting - thus teaching us the valuable life lesson that a drunken customer is a good tipper. See? It's educational!
All the while, find yourself weirdly seduced by the psychotropic background xylophones. It is an extraordinarily short loop of music, yet it does such a good job of soothing you through the constant press of hungry customers, I suggest you leave it on. It's all part of the game's hypnotic rhythm. Rice. Nori. Fish egg. Roll. Ding ding a-ding ding ding a-ding ding. Rice. Nori. Fish egg. Roll. Ding ding a-ding ding ding a-ding ding.
You could almost dance to it, if you had two seconds to spare. But you don't. That girl in the pink kimono just ordered a dragon roll, and you're fresh out of eel.
Analysis: In a sea of Diner Dash copycats, Sushi Go Round manages to feel like its own game. Bold, large-pixelled artwork grants a distinct charm to both the food and the wide-faced patrons. The customers are unusually one-dimensional for this type of game — their taste in seafood is their only personality trait — but focusing on the rhythms of the kitchen is its own kind of pleasure. Keeping track of the various recipes helps you feel connected to the work, and learning to execute them rapidly and efficiently may even give you a sense of pride.
But compelling as it is, Sushi Go Round is a game of repetition and endurance. The authors have limited the number of levels and put in a proper ending, but no way to save your game. You should be able to finish the whole thing in less than a half-hour, but whether you play it again will depend on your willingness to get sucked in for another full stretch.