Cake Mania: To the Max
Poor Jill: she has to finish high school, go to the prom, decide what she will study at college, and she has to run the cake shop for her arthritic grandmother. On paper she already looks like a real miss goody-two-shoes. In reality, though, I suspect that she is insane. Also, I have lost all sympathy with grandmother, just sitting there and doing nothing, all while the cake shop gets busier and busier. Really, can't she take the orders or something? But slave labor is an inevitable theme in the world of these speed-based puzzle games. Get ready to peddle sweet loafs in Cake Mania: To the Max.
Games such as Cake Mania require a deft balancing act as to always stay one step ahead of your increasingly impatient customers. Jill manages her grandmother's cake shop: this means she takes the orders, makes the cake, renders the frosting (and whatever other decorations are required) and delivers the concoction before the customer walks off in a huff. If someone gets a bit impatient, you can calm them down with a cookie or two — the happier they are, the more the customers tip, which works towards reaching your daily target.
Cakes come in many shapes, so orders can be simple single layer creations or multi-level monstrosities. To help you keep ahead of the rush (for clearly grandma has no plans to hire some additional help), you can upgrade elements about the shop to increase your productivity or income. Nice walls and counters mean better tips, floor upgrade improve Jill's speed and splashing out on the oven or additional frosting bays is always a smart idea. Alas, money comes in very slowly and to reach the full glory of grandma's bakery will take most of the dozens of levels on offer ('levels' being used loosely — every stage is the same shop, but with your upgrades and increasingly demanding customers).
Analysis: Cake Mania: To the Max is a challenging game — beyond titles like Family Restaurant; where your actions and focus there can be very singular, Cake Mania will have you run from pillar to post as you try and bring multiple orders together. Thankfully the grading scale it uses — being able to hit the daily cash target — is pretty forgiving. In addition, you can make a lot of mistakes and still finish a level. Strictly speaking it doesn't appear possible to lose a level, but you can fall short on the expected takings for the day.
If you have a knack for games that require mouse speed and dexterity combined with a good short-term memory, this game is ridiculously fun. It is a bit strange, really, that Cake Mania is wrapped in such a cutesy package — one that regularly solicited sneers and grunts from my more macho friends. A game about making cake? Despite what it ways on the tin, this is not Cake Mania's gig. It just pretends to bake cakes. In reality it is testing your cobra-like mouse skills. The buying of upgrades and equipment breakdowns create an extra dimension and Cake Mania has a lot more depth than it suggests.
There is an additional activity where you can rearrange the customers standing around (since some do not like others). This seems a bit too much, especially when different customers have different demands: cheerleaders tend to form groups, oil barons will supersede everyone (sometimes useful, sometimes a disaster), the 'dudes' will take anything, brides tend to be more impatient and so forth. Understanding all of these quirks is ultimately the key to serious players who intend to take on the clock. But they are less of an issue if you prefer to play at your own pace.
If acts of great speed and agility is your idea of a fun puzzle game (and it certainly is mine), the new Cake Mania hits the sweet spot, even though it has some areas that can be improved. It is certainly one of the best in the genre, whatever that might be.