Tastemaker – Early Access Review

Simulation fans rejoice! A new kid is coming to the block and it seems like it could genuinely turn out to be the restaurant sim that we’ve all been waiting for. Tastemaker was released on Steam’s Early Access platform and while many see such purchases as a trap, I have no problem in dropping a few quid to take a deeper look at a game I wish to follow. A pro-tip: liberal use and proper understanding of Steam’s refund function makes Early Access games something of an extended demo and safe pre-order all in one.

Getting my sea legs as a restaurant designer.

The restaurant sim genre is one that seems just a bit plagued by low-effort entries and very old bargain bin titles that have ended up on the Steam platform. It’s often quite difficult to know, when purchasing one of these titles, what type of simulation you’re getting. Games like Cooking Simulator and the Cook! Serve! Delicious! franchise do a great job of showing you what they offer right off the bat but the market is inundated with low-effort mimicry and appeals to nostalgia. Many games follow trends set by the Facebook Games of Yore, with isometric views and an attempt to marriage restaurant design with business management and I have never found a game that scratches the itch to experience a good fusion of the two. Chef: A Restaurant Simulator came out in the second half of 2020 and comes close, but the steep shoddy tutorial, bad optimisation and take-it-or-leave-it art-style prevent me from seriously recommending it.

Tastemaker seems like it’s going to be quite the breath of fresh air. The first bite of a meal is with your eyes, and this game looks very tasty. It took just the trailer on its Steam Page to convince me that I wanted this game in my library. It has a very muted palette and the current range of decoration and furniture feeds into a sort of cartoon art deco/almost noir style that looks very suave and pleasing to the eye. The character animations are smooth and there seems to be a lot of character in the design. Compounding this artistic direction is the soundtrack. Jazzy, moody pieces play over the title screen and whenever you add a jukebox to your restaurant – the choice to make the music totally diegetic makes me very happy, it even lowers the music volume as you pan away from the jukebox.

The gameplay currently has some very solid grounding. As far as the simulation goes, there are some challenging aspects to it and it’s one of those games where success is mostly a balancing act. Moneywise you need to think about your staffing costs and your ingredient orders, and the cost of expanding your restaurant adds up quickly. Additionally, you need to use your space wisely as buying land can be expensive and you are limited in your storage too: your ingredients take up space, as do things like plates and wine glasses. Dishwashers can only take a limited amount of plates at a time and larger restaurants will need more than one as a result. Space is as much a premium resource as money yourself. The puzzle of working out exactly what you need to buy and when is quite fun, such as working out exactly when your restaurant is big enough or popular enough to require a new employee.

One scenario sees you turning a run-down fast food joint into a successful business begins with getting yourself out of the red and into the black. Here’s my before and after completing all three objectives. Note how adaptable the kitchen appliances can be, being accessed from the diagonals!

One little detail I really like is that if you are currently attracting more customers than you can happily serve, the game advises you to either construct more seating or raise the food prices to drive them away which is just totally unexpected and fun. Another fun addition is that you can make money from gambling in this game, with arcade games and fruit machines to place around your establishment.

In the sandbox mode, you can end up buying every square this side of the road!

Right now the game features a well-made tutorial, 4 varied scenario levels and a hefty sandbox mode. There’s quite the range of foodstuffs and appliances used to make them, too. Overall, it’s a very promising start that I am excited to see grow, with the potential for more complex and detailed dishes, a plethora of new decoration themes and expansions to the restaurant sim recipe book. A very solid grounding and a tentative recommendation from me, keeping in mind that it’s an Early Access game.

Currently, Tastemaker is on sale until the 25th.

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