Review: Cake Mania 2: Jill’s Next Adventure! (Nintendo DS)

Cake Mania 2: Jill’s Next Adventure!
Developer:Digital Embryo
Publisher: Majesco
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 06/24/08


With its simple to pick up, yet difficult to master gameplay, the popular Cake Mania series is probably only rivaled by the likes of Diner Dash as the current time waster game of choice by many a casual gamer. Cake Mania 2 continues to follow the culinary exploits of the cake maven Jill, but you can’t help but feel you’ve had your fill of the particular dessert in question in the series’ second DS appearance.

Story

The plot picks up right after Jill manages to save her grandparents bakery via her goddess-like cake baking skills. Jill sends her deserving grand folks on a dream trip to Hawaii, and it’s not long after that Jill’s friends find themselves in desperate need of her baking abilities.

The single player experience will allow you to pick which of Jill’s two friends you want to assist at the start, and the story will branch out from there. As I’m sure you can expect, all the plot progressions involve Jill baking cakes. As in the other games, the exposition, which is depicted by way of
comic strip sequences, is meant to be light, clever, and cute, and in those regards, Cake Mania 2 hits its mark. The writing is bubbly and appropriate, and I can easily imagine anyone being able to chuckle at its comedic, down to earth approach.

It’s a puzzle game about baking cakes, and what is there works as far as a plot is concerned.
Jill is as likable as ever, and though simple, the story has the right amount of charm and wit to carry itself along with the casual experience.

Story Rating: Good

Graphics

Though the graphics of Cake Mania 2 may be the cause of some of its gameplay issues (we’ll cover that in a bit) – from a basic visual stand point, things are more or less the same as the previous DS installment. Even a few of the customer sprites from the first game appear in this installment with various costume changes.

It’s not that big of a deal, but if you plugged away at the first game on any platform, the recycled graphics might come of as a bit lazy, and can even act as amplifiers to the fact that you’re pretty much playing the same game as the previous version. But let’s pretend this is your first Cake Mania experience for a moment.

I believe character design is very important with these puzzle based products, as the usually simple presentation of such games lays the majority of its aesthetic on the designs and characters you’re going to be staring at through the repetition. The point being, the character designs in the Cake Mania series are done reasonably well, and have a certain syndicated comic strip charm to them that captures the casual nature of the product. Having played games from both series, I actually prefer the art direction in Cake Mania considerably over the direction seen in traditional Diner Dash. The colors are vibrant and lively, and the visual presentation, though simple and direct in its style, compliments the game effectively.

Unlike the PC counterpart, however, the animation is quite minimal in the DS version, and to a degree it’s to be understood, as the game is being emulated on a much smaller scale. However, without the detail and semi-fluent animation that bring Jill, and to a lesser extent her customers, to life, the inherent charm of the art direction is unfortunately diminished quite a bit during the actual gameplay, as the character sprites are depicted with human proportions like the PC games. The customers are depicted in more detail on the top DS screen as they enter the shop, but you’ll definitely feel that something is missing with the DS version’s visual presentation, especially if you’re familiar with the PC variant.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

Sound

Appropriate little jingles play in the background while you frantically bake cakes, but they’re nothing that really catches one’s attention or stand out from anything else the game may be doing at the time.

There are a good deal of voice effects in the game that fit well, but can become rather grating at times… most notably, the child customers who blurt out “It’s my turn!” in a stereotypically bratty adolescent tone upon entering the bakery. Other sound effects like door bells and the powdery fluff noises of the frosting machines are all in place, and sound fine for what they are, but like the music, are nothing noteworthy.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

Gameplay

Games like Cake Mania qualify to be placed into the appropriate genre of a puzzle game, but they fit more along the lines with the recent “Brain Games” craze that has been sweeping our consoles and handhelds as of recent. I guess many still consider those puzzle games as well, but I believe they qualify for their own individual category. A solid amount of concentration, focus, and proper time management are all key factors in the simple, yet potentially taxing gameplay elements of Cake Mania 2. The mechanics are identical to the elements of the previous DS version of the game, as is the same, generally, with other versions of the original. If you’ve played Cake Mania in any of its previous installments, feel free to skip the following paragraph. You understand how the product works, and what is here in this version is identical.

As Jill, it’s your job to single-handedly run the bakery. Why she doesn’t hire some other employees is beyond me, but it’s probably because of the same mysterious reason that the character from Diner Dash chooses to do things by her lonesome. Customers enter the bakery and line up along the right of the screen, complete with 4 hearts icons attached to them. These indicate the customers patience, and if they run out of hearts without being served their cake, they will leave, and you’ll make no money. The game follows the same pattern throughout, though it gets more hectic, and customers desire more elaborate cakes as things progress.

Jill will earn money from a hard days work at the bakery, and just like an RPG hero will use their dungeon booty to purchase new armor and weapons, cake maven Jill will be able to purchase an array of frosting machines that will offer her customers even more cake options, and also make the game more complex in return. It’s all relative, and in a game about baking cakes, it all works.

The problem with this edition of Cake Mania 2 is that it’s not appropriately designed for the DS. The cramped graphics are at war with the simple yet precise gameplay elements on not one, but both DS screens. It’s not only tough to see exactly what kind of cake a customer wants when things start getting more complicated, but the tiny little pallets that represent the various frosting and topping options are practically stuck together, and pixel precision is needed to pick the right one. If you’re slightly off, which happens a decent amount of the time, the cake must be thrown away, and an entirely new cake must be made, which is a real pain when customers start requesting double layer cakes. Given the hectic nature of the game, this can literally ruin your entire day’s work, as throwing away a cake and having to start over from scratch will drastically back you up with other cake orders. It’s in these regards that the DS version of Cake Mania 2 falls flat, and really comes off as being somewhat broken in the gameplay department when compared to the precise nature of the PC variants.

A simple botch such as the one I just explained is all that there really needs to be to make the gameplay suffer in such a causal game as Cake Mania 2, and it certainly does.

Gameplay Rating: Poor

Replayability

Cake Mania 2 features two separate storylines, which technically means you can go through the game seeing new things and reading different amusing comic strips. This is definitely an improvement over the previous Cake Mania which followed a linear path.

The gameplay, as stated, in Cake Mania 2 is identical to that in Cake Mania 1. However, there is still fun and amusement to be had with the product, even if it does exactly the same thing. The casual experience lends itself well to short bursts, and can remain entertaining long after you’ve cleared both story arcs. That being said, we once again come to the unfortunate fact that the DS version of Cake Mania 2 is just not up to snuff with its PC counterpart, and the casual enjoyment that might come from repeat plays on the PC version might translate to frustration and diminished entertainment in the DS game.

If you can somehow deal with the difficult touch screen interface, then technically Cake Mania 2 on the DS version offers the same enjoyable gameplay and features of the PC version.

Replayability Rating: Good

Balance

Cake Mania 2 is reasonably balanced, though the game ramps up the difficulty a bit too early, perhaps. Veterans of the first game will have no problems guiding Jill around the bustling bakery, and others can quickly and easily get the hang of things after a couple rounds, though a couple rounds is all that’s need for the pesky touchscreen and cramped graphics to start working their dark magic on the gameplay.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality

Besides some new comic scenes, the slight rearrangement of the bakeries, and the re-using of the last game’s character sprites in different costumes, Cake Mania 2 is Cake Mania 1. The dual story arc is neat, but hardly innovative in any sense of the word.

Originality Rating: Poor

Addictiveness

Games like Cake Mania 2 are developed with addictiveness in mind, and the formula the game follows does its job well. The casual, fast paced, and challenging nature of the game makes it great to plug away at during random down time. These elements are in place with the DS version, but, once again, the suffering gameplay takes its toll on just about everything the product has to offer from a gameplay standpoint. It’s through this that, eventually, you’ll just be wishing you were playing the PC version.

Addictiveness Rating: Bad

Appeal Factor

Regardless of the less than effective touch screen gameplay, having Cake Mania 2 on the go is certainly a novel idea, especially for fans of the first product. The price is certainly right as well. These kinds of games are always good choices for handheld editions, and when done well, can often be entertaining pieces of software. Cake Mania 2 is going to appeal highly to casual DS owners, especially those who like baking or cooking.

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

Miscellaneous

Cake Mania 2 is a carbon copy of the original game, and this DS version is a carbon copy of the previous DS version, flaws and all. Taking into consideration the casual appeal and price point of the product, the lack of any real originality wouldn’t hurt Cake Mania 2 on the DS that much, and even if you don’t like these kind of games per say, it’s easy to understand the entertainment value therein. The thing that does all but ruin the product is the difficult touch screen interface, that is most likely the result of the cramped visual presentation of the actual gameplay. If the graphics were represented in a more reasonable fashion, I believe the game would could work well on the DS format, but as it is now, it’s considerably flawed, and can be a real casual killjoy.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores:
Story: Good
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Mediocre
Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Poor

FINAL SCORE: Decent Game

Short Attention Span Summary:

The DS version of Cake Mania 2 has pretty much everything the PC variant has in place, except accommodating gameplay. The cramped visual style makes selecting cakes, frosting, and toppings at break-neck speeds a difficult endeavor on the tiny DS touch screen, and it all but cripples the gameplay. The price is certainly right, and if you were able to deal with the technical flaws of the first DS version of Cake Mania, you can probably have a good time with the sequel.

Though I agree wholeheartedly that the idea of the game sounds great on the go, I unfortunately have to recommend the PC version over the likes of this, which, though not portable, works the way the game is suppose to work. Oh, and it’s cheaper to boot.

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