Little Dragons Cafe Review: As Relaxing as It Is Cute
There's something to be said for the child-like innocence found in Little Dragons Cafe that has endeared me so heavily. Everything from the setting and dialogue to the environments and general gameplay is steeped in a sort of GameCube-era charm. That's probably why I like it so much.
You see articles across the internet about how this is the creator of Harvest Moon's latest project. Heck, even I wrote a short article mentioning Yasuhiro Wada and his connection to the game. Some may get a little huffy over it, citing he hasn't worked on the series for years, but he worked on my personal favorites within the Harvest Moon series: Back to Nature, Friends of Mineral Town, A Wonderful Life, and Magical Melody.
Whether Wada has worked on the modern series is irrelevant -- his works and overall style appeal to me, and I spent countless hours playing his games growing up and into young adulthood. That said, his development style may not appeal to you, and I would understand why.
Little Dragons Cafe is a game as simple as it appears. Each simple character model has a basic personality, each gameplay system is as low-fuss as possible, and each piece of progression is carefully controlled. It feels like a GameCube game -- I say that as a compliment.
Not every game needs a million mechanics that have complex effects on each other. Sometimes it's fun to just sit back, relax, and play around in a game with minimal oversight over the player and their choices.
Hanging out in LDC
The gameplay flow of Little Dragons Cafe ushers the player along to take care of the cafe and raise the dragon in your trust while helping temporary guests with their woes. These tasks entail cooking, waiting on customers in the cafe, feeding your dragon, and gathering ingredients out in the field.
Though you have much to do in a day, you have ample time to take care of what's important despite the constraints of a 24-hour day cycle. If you don't get everything done you needed to, don't worry. There are no deadlines, only peak business hours in your cafe.
Most of your time in-game is spent gathering ingredients and cooking. You end up spending far more time gathering than cooking, since you have to explore the connected islands to buff your pantry and find pieces of recipes to add to the cafe menu. Once you're ready to head back to your house, teleporting is a button press away and does not progress the clock.
Gathering itself is fairly simple. You shake trees, pick vegetables out of bushes, jump to knock birds out of the air, and snatch up larger egg-laying birds with the press of a button or two. The only difficulty in this aspect lies in trying to find new gathering nodes when you've progressed to a certain point story-wise.
Taking care of the cafe is similarly easy to handle. You are granted some moody employees to wait tables and a particularly flamboyant orc to act as a cook, neither party requiring much effort on your part to work with. There are neither wages nor other intricacies to working with them. Sometimes the cafe employees do slack off or get upset, but you can talk to them to calm them down and get them back to work.
Cooking and menu management is the one aspect of Little Dragons Cafe that takes some effort. You must clear a short rhythm minigame to cook a dish, with the quality of the dish varying based on your performance. The better you do, the better the dish and the more likely guests will be to order and enjoy it.
Guests themselves aren't too picky but they do have opinions on dishes that you have to pay attention to. You can view recent customer comments on dishes and see the overall score for each dish within the cooking menu. From there, you can decide whether you should work up a new recipe or leave the dish on the menu as-is. Swapping menu dishes out is no-fuss, and the food looks great.
This all may sound like a lot -- I didn't even mention taking care of the dragon yet -- but it boils down to a very simple flow of play. You wake up, gather until lunch, teleport back to the cafe to help with the lunch rush, go gather again until 7 p.m., then teleport back to help with the dinner rush. Then you either go out gathering one last time or hit the sack. Easy peasy.
It's up to you how you approach this game as there are minimal consequences to your actions.
You don't have to be at the cafe for peak hours, your employees will probably handle it just fine. But if they don't (you get a notification if they are slacking off), you just take a hit to your reputation. No big deal.
You don't actually have to go to bed at a set time to get reasonable sleep, either. If you so choose, you can explore the islands and gather until nearly 6 a.m. and then go to bed rather than sleeping around 10 p.m. to midnight. There's just no need, and the only penalty you'll incur is sleeping in 10 or 20 minutes late. This is also not a big deal.
This lack of accountability or meaningful penalties carries over to taking care of your dragon. You can feed and pet the dragon, but there's not much more to its care than that. Your dragon is a valuable asset, however; it allows you to gather ingredients you wouldn't be able to otherwise and you even get to use it to fly and explore once you reach a certain point. That point is where the game opens up and you stop getting frustrated over jumping.
All ages accepted
Though I myself am a 30+ year old woman and have found a lot to love in Little Dragons Cafe, I have to admit this game seems better suited to a much younger age group. Though that hasn't been a detriment to my enjoyment.
There are a few things that really stick out while playing. The first is the lack of consequences as touched on above. It's quite noticeable.
The incredibly cutesy and basic, logic-defying characters and their dialogue are the biggest hint. Why keep Billy around for the first chunk of the game if he just keeps slacking? I don't know, but the player character seems to think it's a great idea.
Nonetheless, the character stories you must see through are endearing and engaging in their own way. You learn to like the characters more as you learn about them and they push trough life's hurdles right there with you.
Little Dragons Cafe makes no qualms about keeping things light, cute, and simple to its benefit. It's a straight-forward and light-hearted game from start to finish. Its simplicity is why I say it feels like a GameCube game. There's nothing particularly intricate here but that is part of what makes it an all-around enjoyable package.
The (beef bowl) rubdown
The game's music is particularly of note, and I don't mean the cooking rhythm game tracks. Most of the music found in Little Dragons Cafe is very well done and at times reaches classic Harvest Moon-levels of catchy. I really appreciated it paired with the unique drawing-esque visuals.
I have only one real glaring complaint with Little Dragons Cafe, and that is jumping. The rhythm minigame is the most difficult thing you're going to find here, but the stiff and sometimes unresponsive jumping can be a very real problem in a game where you're having to watch the clock.
It's too easy to miss jumps. I once got stuck trying to jump up a rock for nearly an hour in-game for some unknown reason. It just would not let me up. I've also repeatedly gotten stuck on ledges mid-jump, sometimes leading into my character skidding across the ledge and subsequently falling. It's weird, not fun, and made me thank my lucky stars once my dragon was old enough to fly.
Though by no means perfect, Little Dragons Cafe is a very enjoyable experience if you want a game that seems to relax just as much as you do when playing.
The pacing and overall feel of LDC are so similar to those older Harvest Moon titles that I enjoyed so much, that I have repeatedly sat down intending to play for only an hour or so only to find that hour spurt turn into a full four-hour spree.
I may be in love with Little Dragons Cafe, but one has to admit when their taste doesn't fall in line with most and this is one of those times. Despite its "Aww!" inducing charms and gameplay that can so easily pull the player in for hours, the lack of punishment for mistakes and the absolutely disastrous jumping are real detriments some players may not be able to overlook. I can, though -- and I would say that if you enjoyed Yasuhiro Wada' classic Harvest Moon games I mentioned at the start of this review or just want the friendliest game on the block, you may very well enjoy it, too.
You can get Little Dragons Cafe on either the Nintendo Switch or the PlayStation 4 as of August 24.
[Note: Writer was granted a copy of the game on the Nintendo Switch for review purposes from the publisher.]