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Saturday, April 13, 2024

‘Lemon Cake’ Is the Perfect Recipe for Casual Gamers

I can’t remember the last time I finished a video game. I’ve had my Nintendo Switch Lite for two years now, and it’s riddled with a number of titles I’ve abandoned for one reason or another. I often scroll through the Nintendo eShop, watching dozens of trailers in search of a game that might hook my ADHD brain, but nothing ever feels quite tantalizing. And now I feel guilty that my Switch sees most of its days tucked away in a drawer.

As a kid, I was always into simulation-style games (The Sims, Mall Tycoon, and Nintendogs, to name a few) and that has carried over into my adulthood. I’ve long struggled to find a game that scratches this itch though—devoid of side quests, intense customization, multiple storylines, and tough levels. That is, until a couple of months ago, when a TikTok video about “cozy Nintendo Switch games” appeared on my For You page. 

Among the list was Lemon Cake—a bakery-management game where the main goal is to repair a bakery by learning recipes, baking treats, decorating the space, and serving customers. That’s all there is to it, but I was entranced the minute I downloaded it. Between the straightforward storyline, easy gameplay, calming background music, and adorable graphics, I finally found what I’d been searching for—a game that’s more soothing than overstimulating. I actually finished it.

A Relaxing Restoration

Cozy Bee Games Lemon Cake$30 at Amazon$30 at Nintendo

What drew me to Lemon Cake was that it felt like a mixture of Stardew Valley, Cooking Mama, and Diner Dash in one—but more subdued. Rather than reviving a farm and completing quests throughout the village, your only responsibility is restoring a rundown bakery. Instead of chopping, slicing, cooking, and plating meals, you just throw some ingredients into a bowl and bake them in the oven. With only two tables to serve and clean up after, the game rarely gets too hectic.

There’s a fair amount of direction too. You’re graced with the presence of Miss Bonbon—the (somewhat) friendly ghost you’ve inherited the bakery from—who helps guide you toward getting the business fully up and running. She eventually becomes your assistant, helping serve coffee to customers and move pastries from the kitchen to the display window.

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As you make money selling pastries, you also earn supplies, appliances, and furniture to help you run the business more efficiently. These include a coffee machine, an extra oven, a second table, and a cat café (where customers can adopt kittens). Everything has its set place, too, so you don’t have to spend time building or arranging. You’re never overwhelmed with decisions.

There is some form of strategy to the game—you need to manage your time wisely to make sure you’re serving patrons quickly enough to avoid missing or burning any orders. You also have to curate a menu with enough variety to drive the most customers and profit. As your recipe book expands to include categories like bread, cookies, cakes, donuts, and pies, this starts to become increasingly difficult. It takes some trial and error to figure out the right combination, but this keeps the game interesting, and you get a better hang of it the longer you play.

Along the way, you’re also constantly adjusting your operation depending on what you’ve managed to unlock. There’s a magic broom that sweeps up messes on its own (so you can focus on other tasks), a rail cart to gather up to four ingredients (to keep from running back and forth between the greenhouse), and an oven upgrade (so pastries don’t burn as quickly). Essentially, you inch closer to focusing more on baking as many pastries and serving as many customers as possible, rather than making sure the bakery isn’t a mess.

Wake ’n Bake

Before Lemon Cake, I’d unwind after a long, stressful workday by catching up on a TV show. But once I started playing, it became my go-to form of self-care. When 6 pm hit, I’d shut my laptop off, power up the Switch, throw on my headphones, and pick up where I left off at the bakery. 

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For a few hours a night, I’d zone out, listening to a podcast and blissfully baking an array of virtual pastries, from cherry bundt cakes and sweet pretzels to strawberry donuts and apple tarts. With the bakery open every day from 8 am to 6 pm, each hour is one minute long, and every round or “day” is 10 minutes long. There was no such thing as playing “just one more round.” It would always turn into far more than that. My brain was on autopilot, in a comforting and alleviating way. 

Each day, my avatar wakes up and prepares the bakery before it opens—baking pastries for the display window and gathering all the necessary ingredients. The mornings usually start out calm, with customers trickling in slowly, making it easy to keep up with orders. When noon hits and the lunch rush starts, orders start to pile up and customers grow impatient. Things wind down as the evening approaches, though, with only one or two customers to take care of before closing up shop. The next day, it happens all over again. It’s a grind.

But it’s this form of repetition that gives me the same comfort as rewatching my favorite show or movie, like New Girl or Gilmore Girls. I already know what to expect. I’m familiar with all the characters and storylines, so I can relax with no pressure to pay extra close attention. The same goes for Lemon Cake. I know what’s going to happen at each level, which item I’m working toward next, and how much money I need to unlock it.

It’s, overall, a cakewalk of a game (pun intended). But it’s been the one thing to get me out of the monthslong gaming slump I’ve desperately been trying to claw my way out of. It’s also a perfect option for any casual gamer looking for a feel-good title to snuggle up with on their Switch, especially in these cold winter months.


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