This summer, it feels like everyone is hot for one thing and one thing only: the kitchen boyfriend. FX’s cooking comedy-drama The Bear, which makes use of Chicago’s dining scene and Jeremy Allen White’s hands looking pretty good holding a quart container full of water, made sure of that. But you don’t really want the real restaurant experience. White’s commendable biceps may have convinced you that you do, but don’t worry — these totally unrealistic cooking video games, all of which are new and popular on Steam, will help curb your craving.
As the holder of my very own kitchen boyfriend, one who name-drops the places he staged and texts me furiously when he notices an acquaintance using iodized salt instead of unrefined, I know I must provide The Bear fans a thirst addendum. Cooking is certainly sexy, but the harsh restaurant world rarely is. These games are as engrossing and cutthroat as The Bear, but they’re also delightfully fantastical and strange. They’ll give you all the benefits of playing chef without the reality of someone instructing you to eat ten tomatoes a day because it’s peak-season. I would know.
PlateUp! is an Overcooked! copycat with an emphasis on good management. It’s not enough to whip up your faceless customers’ delicious orders with only two kitchen fires under your belt. You and up to three more players also need to organise your restaurant in a way that doesn’t suck.
You get to decide most of your establishment’s essentials — tables, boxes of ingredients, even cherries on top like kitchen tech and wallpaper. So when you bump into a counter or miss an order because someone put the plate station too far away, you’ll have nowhere to scream but internally.
The game has the spirit of a real restaurant — good management is key anywhere — but in reality, you’d never have to resort to extremes like food conveyor belts to deliver pizza directly into the public’s ungrateful yaps.
PlateUp! might make you sick of shouldering the blame. I understand, accountability is hard. It’s way healthier to hurl insults into the mic while playing co-op kitchen game Overcooked! 2.
If you fuck up in Overcooked! 2, you’ll be inclined to blame those around you before turning your ire to the game’s increasingly complex level design. No real restaurant will make you flip strawberry pancakes in the middle of a lazy, icy river. Not even if you’re an anthropomorphic reindeer or raccoon in a wheelchair, like two of the cute potato-nosed chefs you’re able to play in this game.
But the joy of Overcooked! 2 comes not from its realism. It’s all about the adrenaline-pumping ridiculousness. After you cook 20 plates of spaghetti bolognese on a teetering hot air balloon that your raccoon friend accidentally rolled off of (I’ve done this many times), you’ll never see pasta the same way. And you won’t want to.
Overcooked! 2 isn’t new, but the compilation of it and its predecessor, Overcooked: All You Can Eat, is.
Farming Simulator 22
All this kitchen talk is irrelevant without farmers. But I know you’re not harvesting your own summer squash — your Super Mario hands are too weak.
Farming Simulator 22 puts those Super Mario hands to good use. The detailed simulation game sweeps the reality of farming’s long hours, brutal sun, and poor wages under a tastefully braided rug. The farming in the game is a kind that would be amenable to even the sleepiest of couch-lovers.
Create a farming conglomerate through four seasons by yourself or with multiplayer’s help. Work the land and collect some eggs. Go ahead, turn someone’s brutal existence into content. I won’t tell FX and give them any other ideas. Just ride your virtual John Deere tractor through untilled fields in virtual Europe and never look back.
OK, park your tractor. You won’t be needing it for Kiwi Clicker, an absurd incremental kiwi collection game. You need the kiwis to feed your king, a little mulberry-looking creature with a crown, and you can only obtain them by clicking on a giant Diglett-looking creature who expels sliced kiwis from its body. The more kiwis you obtain, the more in-game currency “koins” you earn, which you need to improve your kiwi clicking power. Kiwis are the goal and the answer. This game is the most realistic out of everything on this list.
Do you have a kiwi-induced tummy ache? Turn to Bakso Simulator’s sweet meats. This early access business sim revolves around the bakso, an Indonesian beef meatball, and your toils as a burgeoning bakso restaurateur. Being a restaurant owner in a game may, at times, twinge of real life — you have to do routine chores like deal with difficult customers and upgrade chairs for said customers to put their butts in.
But Bakso Simulator also turns you, a humble restaurateur, into a sort of meatball superhero. When a thief wearing a characteristic black mask and striped shirt comes to steal your restaurant’s stuff, you simply punch him in the head and he runs away. If a child tries to make off with your bakso without paying, you can punch them in the head, too. Punch everyone in the head and make your meatballs. This game is equal parts punching and meatball.
Bear and Breakfast
Kotaku staff writer Sisi Jiang noted in their review that Bear and Breakfast unfortunately “lacks the relentless optimism of business sims while not delivering on any coherent critique about landlords either.” But if you close your eyes and spend some time in the hotel management sim organising your establishment’s buffet and cooking up eggs, you can almost imagine that this game’s main character bear is as dreamy as Jeremy Allen White. Almost!
These unrealistic cooking games should keep you occupied until The Bear comes back some time in 2023, and hopefully they remind you that fantasy is often a lot better than reality. The ramps that start popping up in every specialty grocery store each May never taste as good as everyone promises they will, do they? You don’t really need some guy with tattoos wandering around your life with a hammered chef’s knife, do you? Oh God, it’s too late. I see you’re already drinking water out of quart containers.
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