Here's a fantastic idea for a restaurant: have a competent waitress who does her job well, then hire a cook that periodically flips out and tries to kill the customers. That's the general idea behind Cafe Murder, a mobile time management game from Beaver Toad Software that emphasizes character and personality over speed. It's not a game about seeing how fast you can serve sandwiches, it's a game about keeping your shop tidy and pleasing the customers. And boy do customers love it when they're not murdered!
Gameplay puts you in control of Rainy, the dedicated waitress who will do anything to feed customers and keep them alive. People walk in the top of the screen and make their four-piece sandwich order. Stabby sits at the bottom of the screen chopping ingredients one by one. After each cut she throws the slice into the air. It makes a small shadow on the floor tile where it will land, all you have to do is tap it to send Rainy there to catch it before it hits the ground. Send it to a workstation as you slowly build up orders to give to impatient customers. Rainy is armed with a convenient device that sucks in and spits out ingredients one at a time, meaning she doesn't have to run all over the place to make a simple sandwich.
Unlike most fast-paced restaurant games, Cafe Murder goes to great lengths to make the customers and people as real as possible. That doesn't mean hyper-detailed artwork straight out of the uncanny valley, it just means each person has his or her own personality, complete with likes, dislikes, and opinions on the work you're doing. This translates directly into how popular your cafe becomes, as customers rank you on everything from accuracy to hygiene to how convinced they are they won't get stabbed while stuffing their face. Food service is a rough business.
As Cafe Murder progresses your little cafe will slowly turn into a bustling restaurant. You'll unlock more ingredients to play with, which increases the complexity of each order, but you'll also gain access to some equippable items to give you a little boost. There are also special cafe stats you can work towards to get your star ranking as high as possible, all in the name of successful eating/stabbing.
Analysis: Cafe Murder takes the best parts of old school game design and brings them into the modern era. It feels like a retro game, but without any of the annoying inconveniences of the previous era. Don't let the genre label turn you away, as Cafe Murder isn't about fast movement or complex restaurant management. It's a very casual-friendly game that has the wonderful ability to draw you in right from the start and keep you interested until your very last stab prevention.
The only real downsides to Cafe Murder are the current lack of native iPad support and gameplay that's best suited to short sessions. This isn't the best game to sit down with and play a three hour long marathon, though it certainly won't discourage you from doing so. The simple gameplay design means you'll get a lot more out of the experience if you play it in brief bursts, which is exactly what a casual mobile game should be.
The artwork is lively and creative, and the gameplay takes the core of what makes time management games so good and spreads it out so that everyone can enjoy it. A charming, utterly addictive game you'll love from the minute you start playing.
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the iPad 3. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.