Cake Mania 2
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-07-20 Nintendo DS Action/Puzzle E (Everyone) Majesco / Digital Embryo

While I would like to consider myself a pretty well-rounded gamer, I have to admit that there are certain genres that pull me in more than most. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, as everyone has their favorites, but sometimes I'm surprised at just how easily I can become addicted to titles that other "more hardcore" gamers might see as shallow or one-dimensional.

My latest outing with one such game comes in the form of Cake Mania 2 for the DS, the sequel to the incredibly popular Sandlot Games title that has become a favorite of puzzle lovers and casual gamers everywhere.

In the PC original, players helped a recent culinary school graduate named Jill save her grandparent's bakery from ruin by reopening it and personally catering to each and every customer's wishes and demands. After saving her grandparent's bakery, Jill spends her time in Cake Mania 2 helping her friends, neighbors and even the country by putting her baking skills to the test in over 200 levels of cake baking goodness.

From the very beginning, players familiar with the original title will notice a striking difference here. Instead of being led through an entirely linear storyline, players will instead be immediately faced with a choice of career paths, with one being to help long time friend Risha open up a chic boutique in the big city, and the other being to help ex-boyfriend Jack out of his economic rut by opening a cake shop in his underwater amusement park.

More choices will present themselves as you progress through the game, with each choice setting you into a year long (that is, 12 level long) trek through each story. In the end, you?‚…re left with six different endings to discover, based on the choices you make, which adds an incredible amount of replayability here. Each choice will also introduce you to many new customers, ranging from police officers and doctors to aliens from outer space.

Gameplay is incredibly simple in both thought and execution. Using your stylus, you will control Jill's actions by tapping on different parts of the bakery. For instance, when a customer first walks into the shop, you will have to tap on them to give them a menu of your services. Likewise, after your customer has ordered his or her particular cake, you must tap on the ovens, frosting machines, cake toppers, etc., in order to prepare the cake.

Each level takes place over a month of game time, and has a monetary goal that must be met in order to continue. This is the Baker's Goal, which will increase as cakes become more complex, and your own speed of preparation increases. Likewise, each level also comes equipped with a Superstar Goal, only accessible by going above and beyond the call of duty in terms of monthly profits.

Any profit you receive at the end of the month can be spent on upgrades to your kitchen, with over 50 upgrades available in all. These range from simply buying more ovens and frosting machines to increase your available options, all the way up to superhuman sneakers, which allow Jill to move around the bakery at lighting speeds. The most valuable upgrades are Jill's aforementioned sneakers, as well as the speed boosts given to your machinery itself, causing cakes that used to take five seconds to bake to eventually take only one.

Furthermore, this increase in productivity will be accompanied by more demanding, less patient customers who come equipped with much more complex cake orders as the game progresses. Where your first orders will consist of a simple heart or star shaped cake with chocolate or vanilla frosting, by the time you reach the end of each of the six different scenarios, you will be making stacked cakes, comprised of two individually frosted cakes piled onto one another and topped with a topper ranging from a romantic heart to a cute kitten, with bears, horseshoes and soccer balls in between (among others).

With so many options available for each cake, it's pretty easy to make a mistake by tapping on the wrong item. While this is pretty easy to avoid in the first levels, since everything is so slow, and you can simply double tap on something to cancel your command, by the end, when cakes take a mere three seconds to complete from the time it is ordered to the time you?‚…re collecting your fee, most of these mistakes become permanent.

Luckily, the game accounts for this and offers an upgrade in the form of a display plate that can be placed in the center of the bakery for others to look at. Being that the cake is out in the open, this creates a higher chance that one of your next customers will order that exact layout, thereby erasing your mistake, but even then, you're not guaranteed to be that lucky. At the end of each level, the cost of whatever cakes didn't sell, or whatever materials you had to throw away (because of lack of room, etc.) will be deducted from your monthly profit.

This problem with tapping on the wrong item is only compacted by the game?‚…s small play area. Even on the PC version of the game, items are placed incredibly close together, in order to display the entire game in a set space. Obviously, with the touch screen of the DS being so small, the items are only placed that much closer, meaning that I often found myself tapping on the wrong items, especially when choosing the appropriate cake topper. However, this problem lessens as you become more familiar with the layout of items, and the specific reaction sensitivity of each item (that is, how much pressure or where exactly each item must be tapped in order to activate), so it can be looked past for the most part.

Another problem found in the DS version of the game comes in the game's graphics, which are too small to present much in the way of detail. While most of your cake decorating tasks revolve around color coded objects like cakes and frosting, when it comes time to decipher exactly which shaped cake a customer is ordering, things can become tricky. And in that split second that it takes you to decide if you're looking at an order for a flower or a heart shaped cake, your customers are becoming angrier and less patient than ever before. Luckily, just as with the item sensitivity issue, this problem becomes easier to tackle with experience, as you'll be dealing with hundreds if not thousands of cakes throughout the game's 200 levels.

The top screen does fair better in terms of graphics, however, since your customers are the main focus, allowing them to be presented in greater detail, and in a larger size. The top screen also lets you keep track of your customers' happiness level, which is represented by a row of hearts that becomes smaller the longer they wait. The significance of this meter being that the lower the bar becomes, the smaller your monetary tip once they finally receive their order.

Overall, the graphics do share one common theme, however, with that theme being the use of bright colors and very few textures, even though this graphical simplicity does act as a sort of double-edged sword, making the top screen very appealing, while the touch screen is lacking.

The sound department fairs better overall, with a mix of gentle and upbeat instrumental tracks playing throughout, in addition to cute and cartoony sound effects, like that of a spray can for the frosting machine, as an example.

In the end, Cake Mania 2 for the DS continues in the addictive tradition of its predecessor by offering seemingly simplistic gameplay that turns into something much greater than the sum of its parts. And by being able to take this addictive puzzle action with you wherever you go, Cake Mania 2 easily earns itself a spot in my leader board for the top DS games so far in 2008.

Special thanks to Marion Wallace and Majesco for providing a copy of this title.