Sandlot’s Cake Mania games constitute one of the most successful franchises in the casual games business. It’s hard to believe the first chapter arrived in 2006, because it feels as though this series has been around forever. Cake Mania 3 is the franchise’s debut on the iPhone, and we think that developer Hudson has done a very nice job with the port, by and large. Cake Mania 3’s tried-and-true formula really epitomizes the time management genre, and it delivers some excellent fan service to Cake Mania aficionados as well. At the same time, we can also see how its finger-twisting gameplay might also intimidate newcomers.
The plucky protagonist of the Cake Mania saga, Jill Evans, is always bailing her friends and family out of trouble by doing what she does best: baking lots and lots of cakes. This time around, a malfunctioning time travel device scatters her people across the eons, from prehistoric times to Revolutionary France. Happily, the demand for baked goods is a historical constant, and Jill can set up her bakery practically anywhere (is her equipment solar-powered or what?), so she’s good to go. As Jill, you play through the five eras (Prehistory, Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, Medieval England, and the French Revolution) in any order you choose, followed by a sixth “boss bakery” set in the distant future.
Each of these eras kicks off with a delightful interactive comic that tells the game’s tongue-in-cheek story, complete with voice acting, and then deposits you behind the counter to start serving customers. Your basic equipment is the oven and the froster–the first spits out one of four cake shapes, and the second applies one of four frosting types. At first, customers will order simple cakes that are easily dealt with using the default equipment: you pick a cake, pick a frosting, deliver it to the customer, and pick up the cash. This honeymoon doesn’t last. Customers quickly start to demand two types of cakes at once, or double-stacked cakes, and they come in the door at a faster clip. Customers waiting for you to puzzle this mess out become unhappy, unhappy customers leave rotten tips, and rotten tips keep you from passing the level.
In signature Cake Mania style, you can fight back by spending some of your cash on bakery upgrades: more (and faster) ovens and frosters, better shoes for quicker movement, a TV for distracting waiting patrons, a phone for taking orders, and so on. The game pushes right back by throwing ever more difficult combinations of customers at you, while also raising your cash goals. Many customers have creative special behaviors, and they may also interactive positively or negatively with other customers. For instance, an angry witch may turn the rest of your patrons into monkeys, which will invalidate their standing orders; the Chinese Emperor must be served before everyone else; and Robin Hood will swipe any tips left lying around on the counter for too long… but seeing a guy in a unicorn suit puts everyone in a good mood. Go figure.
This is the kind of complexity that cuts both ways. On the one hand, there’s never, ever a dull moment in this game, and some of the wacky combos and interactions will bring a smile to your face. On the other, the escalation can simply become exhausting. There’s more stuff going on at once here than in any similar game we can think of, and the controls aren’t especially intuitive–it takes a lot of clicks to get things done, especially once double cake orders start flying around. The game thoughtfully pauses the action for you when you’re making a cake or frosting selection, and it’s also possible to queue up strings of actions to improve efficiency, but it’s still a lot to deal with, even on Easy mode.
Cake Mania 3 doesn’t skimp on the production values, unlike many other ports we’ve seen–this game’s presentation is top notch. The hand-drawn graphics are very colorful both in terms of palette and characterization; some of the customer animations are hilarious, and must be seen to be believed. The audio is fantastic as well, from the strong voice work in the comics to the many level-specific tunes. Kudos to Hudson for getting all of the fidelity of the original game scaled down to iPhone size so nicely.
We liked Cake Mania 3 quite a bit overall, and we think that it’s one of the best games of its type available on the App Store. Basically, there’s an entire PC game packed into this little download, and it plays very well. At the same time, we found that Cake Mania 3 can skate right on the edge between play and work, and we suspect that some players will prefer a more casual “casual game.” There’s also the issue of pricing: the game’s currently “on sale” for $4.99, down from $7.99. Five bucks is completely reasonable, but we’d say eight is really pushing it.