Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Order Up! To Go

Order Up! has none of the usual trappings of freemium games. You don't tap something and then wait half an hour to tap it again, nor do you pay real money in order to tap it sooner. Instead, it's a ridiculously fun and addictive and complete restaurant sim for your iPad which, inexplicably, costs nothing to play. I guess there are ads, but disabling them is only a buck; I sprung for that option without even thinking about it.

You play a chef who has just landed on the island of Porta Bella, and you're trying to work your way up the culinary food chain by owning and operating your own restaurants. At the start of every game day, you place your food order and consider upgrades to your menu and restaurant. Then you go inside, and customers start showing up. When you tap a table, you get their order, and then you have to cook it. The better you do, the higher your profits. It's Lemonade Stand meets Cooking Mama.

Of course, the only reason to compare this game to Cooking Mama at all is because that's the cooking game people know. Really, it's much different. Where Cooking Mama is about home cooking -- lovingly prepared, with time taken to get everything just right -- Order Up! is about restaurant cooking. This is high-pressure, short order cooking, where you're preparing four dishes all at once, bouncing back and forth between work stations, trying not to burn things, trying to get everything to come out at the same time. And god is it ever fun. It's split-second time management, where every new table is a chance to squeeze another second of precious efficiency out of yourself. Burgers on first, or sautee beef for the chili? Is it too soon to start the omelette? How much prep can I get done while the onions are cooking? Crap, how long have these fries been down?!

Order Up! was a full retail game on the Wii, and I absolutely loved it. Amazingly, the freemium iPad version is even better. First of all, there are two new locations -- Burger Face has become a proper playable restaurant where you can scrape together some extra money if you accidentally go broke, and Kung Fusion is a completely new Asian restaurant. Secondly, they've turned it into a proper business sim. Instead of just buying spices and upgrades, you now have to place food orders and try to decide what to buy based on the number of guests you expect and the relative popularity of your dishes. Running out means you'll have to fall back on less profitable standbys. It adds a much needed strategic element to the game, making it more than just a pack of mini games.

Order Up! To Go has proven the iPad. It controls great, it looks great, it's fast and fun, and there's enough to do to keep you busy for weeks. This is a complete game, the kind of thing that goes directly toe to toe with the stuff Nintendo would charge you forty to fifty dollars for, one of my favorite Wii games right there on my lap wherever I go. And it's free?!

What a lovely surprise this was.


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