Version tested: Android
I played Cafeteria Nipponica until my fingers bled.
It isn't quite as extreme as it sounds. The screen on my phone has been cracked for the best part of the week as a result of some goon walking into me when I was taking a photo of some ducks. It hasn't shattered yet, but the cracks have been slowly spreading further up the screen, and I caught my index finger on the edge. At first, I thought it was just a scratch and played on, until eventually I realised that the thin smear of red on the screen wasn't the result of a disgruntled customer going all D-Fens on my ass.
It says something about Kairosoft's magic formula that I was compelled to continue. In my review of the developer's recent Android hit Dungeon Village I mentioned the little feedback loops and constant positive reinforcement as a powerful, almost narcotic hook, but there must be more to it than that.
I think it's because there's something incredibly satisfying to efficient micromanagement.. It's hard not to be efficient in a Kairosoft game, particularly in its early stages, because it gives you the opportunity to experience a rare sense of order in our often chaotic world. Call it the Tetris effect.
It's much harder to fail in Cafeteria Nipponica than Tetris, but that's hardly a surprise when games are keener than ever to garland us with virtual rewards. We can be delicate little flowers, you see, and we don't like being reminded how useless we are. So Kairosoft makes games that give us constant pats on the back, where setbacks are glossed over, and triumphs are regularly, cheerfully heralded.
Perhaps that's why, whenever a new Kairosoft title launches, half of the responses on Twitter and in forum posts are delivered with a silent groan. It isn't just the knowledge that we're not going to enjoy a meaningful social interaction for the next 48 hours or so, but the fact we know it's bad for us. Yet we can't resist. It's a very real addiction.
And here, underneath the chef hats and waitress aprons, the bowls of fried udon and seafood soup, it's that same old numbers game ticking quietly away. Only the context has changed, but somehow that's enough.
You develop new recipes, send your staff out to grab ingredients or buy them from the supplier. You clean the store to attract yuppies or introduce points cards to lure in lingerie sellers (a typically Kairosoft quirk). You add a TV and pot plants to appeal to young and old folk, and feed your staff to make them more efficient.
You've done all this before under a different skin, but Cafeteria Nipponica does just enough to make it feel fresh. It's only really when you put your phone down that you realise you've been served the same reheated ingredients.
Fortunately, they still taste good. The cute presentation, the witty writing and the undeniable brilliance of those underlying systems mean you'll happily slurp down another helping. When you've finished you'll might well feel you've had your fill. But don't be surprised if, a few months down the line, you're hungry for more.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.