Delicious: Emily's Wonder Wedding
The meddling, passive-aggressive mother-in-law who constantly finds fault with the bride is such a ubiquitous trope in pop culture that I thank Celestia for my own sweet, not-as-crazy-as-I-am mother-in-law. In Delicious: Emily's Wonder Wedding, part of the beloved Delicious series of time management games from GameHouse, cafe owner Emily is finally about to tie the knot with boyfriend Patrick, but the road to wedded bliss isn't a smooth one. Not only does Emily have to contend with dress problems, mailing invitations, and, of course, managing her popular eatery, she's also got to win over Patrick's mother who's just flown in from Ireland and seems to pick on everything Emily does and says. With a run of bad luck a mile wide, Emily begins to convince herself that maybe Patrick's mother is right and the wedding is cursed, but that's nonsense... right? GameHouse proves once again they know the time-management trade almost better than anything else, and delivers a fun, funny, and gorgeously polished game that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Each level, you need to correctly assemble orders and serve each customer before they get too impatient and leave. Click on ingredients in order to assemble things like sandwiches or special dipped ice cream cones, or just click the required item to pick it up, and then deliver it to the (hopefully) happy customer. Emily's fiance Patrick assembles and sell bouquets, while eventually Emily's mother shows up to help clean tables... not that that means Emily gets much more than a spare microsecond to breathe. As the game goes on, things get more complex... you'll have to contend with bigger tables, more customers, and of course, completing special requirements like cleaning up something before Patrick's overbearing mother arrives. If you really want Emily's wedding to be a dream come true, you'll also have to play special, extra challenging levels in order to successfully invite all of Emily's friends and favourite customers. The mechanics are simple and solid, but occasionally a little clunky... click detection occasionally feels fussy, some of the tasks Emily is required to do (such as "serve" flowers) feel like arbitrary difficulty additions, being unable to see the actions you've chained up means you can't cancel something until Emily's already done it, and the game assumes you already know how everything is played, so it doesn't bother to explain how anything works.
While it turns out when you get older you find the sniping, smirking mother-in-law and her never-say-boo-about-it son a lot less amusing, the light-hearted tone and cheeky sense of humour makes Emily's Wonder Wedding the sort of game it's impossible not to smile at. It's rare to find a time-management game where the story and characters are as big a part of what makes it great as the gameplay, but Emily's Wonder Wedding makes it look easy. Francois may be a bit of a flamboyant stereotype, but that he's in a casual game at all is remarkable, and he's such a sweetheart you can't help but wish he'd be your Best Friend Forever and maid of honor too. Heck, he's more reliable than Emily's parents... they know Emily desperately needs to go to Ireland but can't afford to, and yet when she manages to pull it off, that's when Emily's mother suddenly decides she's going to spring for herself to come along. Gee... thanks, Ma.
Emily's Wonder Wedding doesn't exactly revolutionize the series' tried-and-true gameplay formula, but it does prove that GameHouse knows exactly what they're doing when it comes to the time-management genre. The gradual increase in difficulty coupled with the game always adding in more variety keeps you hooked, and while it still seems like there's a lot more Emily's friends and family could be doing to help in some levels, it never feels impossible. Hitting the Expert rating for each level quickly becomes a matter of chaining combos, so you need to not only figure out juuuuust how long you can make someone wait, but make use of Francois', um, butterfly cheerfulness at the right time. The Challenge Levels you need to complete to send out Emily's invitations can be more than a little hectic, especially because they usually come with an additional restriction on top of the stepped-up pace, such as Emily only being able to carry one item at a time, or always making sure a particular character is served quickly. If you relish some added difficulty, these will hit the spot, though adding in a few of those fantastic, quirky cutscenes for them likely would have increased their appeal. Still, the Delicious games have their addictive formula of fast-paced gameplay and storytelling down to an art, and there's no part of Delicious: Emily's Wonder Wedding that skimps on any quality or polish at all. The game is broken up into chapters that each take place in a different restaurant (what, you didn't think you'd be running Emily's tiny terrace for the whole game, did you?) and the cutscenes that bracket each chapter's "episode" make the game shine. The Delicious series is all about beautiful, bright colours and expressive characters, and the story is surprisingly well-written and funny. If you're already a fan, then this game deserves a place in your collection, but if you've never played one of Emily's adventures before, she just might win you over in a big, big way.