Back in April, San Francisco-based casual and social gaming company MindJolt acquired social-mobile games developer and publisher Social Gaming Network (SGN). Since the acquisition, SGN has been hard at work on its latest social-mobile release for iOS Mini Café. Bringing many of the typical social design features of Facebook games to mobile, the game marks the first title released by the company since being acquired.
A restaurant business sim type of game, Mini Café is a fairly standard title that has been seen many times before (think TeamLava’s Restaurant Story). It hosts a visual style similar to SGN’s past game, Mini Tycoon Casino. As such, the game feels adequate from a technical stand point, but less so in the originality department. Nevertheless, SGN does introduce a few nuances here and there to add unique goals. At the same time, however, it often puts players in a position where it almost feels like one cannot win (in terms of reaching goals).
Getting the basics out of the way, Mini Café at its core, is the same game social gamers have seen before (whether it is Café World and Restaurant City on Facebook or Restaurant Story on iOS). Players are given a virtual restaurant of humble size, and must manage it in order to make it grow. This consists of cooking dishes that take a set amount of time to prepare and then placing them on a serving counter for patrons to eat. Unlike most of the Facebook counterparts, no employees need to be managed as this particular dinner is apparently self-served.
Other familiar features make appearances as well. Users must return frequently to replenish their stocks of cooked food, and must periodically clean tables, floors, and decorative items to keep their patrons happy and their restaurant rating high. Also, buying decorative items (which takes a small amount of time to deliver) will further boost the reputation of the business, and thus attract more customers. It is also worth noting, that food that takes longer to cook is worth more money and that it doesn’t appear to expire should the player not return when it is completed.
One of the big highlights in Mini Café is that it is first of the many business sims to employ an “Ethnicity” mechanic for its food and decor. Now, other social sims have had different forms of décor from around the world, but Mini Café actually marks it as being from a particular country and rewards players for hosting that theme. If enough Ethnicity is earned for Japan, for example, users will earn significantly more bonus income from customers as well as extra reputation from decorative items.
Food adds to ethnicity as well, based on what the user cooks. More than this, however, repeatedly cooking the same dish will improve it (which is denoted by a number of stars), making it worth more coin. Unfortunately, this ties in to a moderate downside. As players level up, they will have a ranking for their restaurant (e.g. A, B, C, etc.) and in order to improve the rank, they must meet certain requirements including cleanliness, the noted food star rating, and having a certain number of decorative items. The problem is that this feature can potentially discourage new users.
When players level up — which they do very quickly early on — the criteria to have a high ranked restaurant increases faster than the player can keep up. As they get to higher levels, and the experience requisite for a new level is much greater, this does even out, but so early on, this feels almost like a penalty for leveling. Thankfully, this is counteracted by the fact that SGN does give players quite a bit of affordable décor to play with when just starting out, allowing them to become hooked on the game more easily.
Other merits of the game come in as the user earns higher levels. For example, players will often be visited by random “Celebrities,” which are satirical characters based on actual celebrities (sort of like in Nightclub City). When these non-player characters arrive, users must wait on them hand and foot, giving them whatever they need, to keep them happy. If they do so, they are posted on their Wall of Fame as a virtual trophy. Additionally, players can pay for advertising to temporarily increase customers and will also receive random text-based events that provide them with fiscal perks.
In terms of monetization, the advertising — which is done by tapping prepared dishes — is one such element of the game that costs a small amount of virtual currency, dubbed Mini Bucks. The currency can be bought in quantities ranging from 15 ($0.99) to 1650 ($99.99) and is used for everything from premium decorative items, expanding one’s restaurant for less than what it would cost with earnable in-game currency, or expediting the cooking or delivery time for food and new decorative items.
Socially, the game is a bit standard. Players can add friends through the SiGN social network, and visit their virtual space, leaving them tips to help out on a daily basis. Moreover, leaving tips can earn players random rewards as well, such as Mini Bucks. Beyond this, players can also take photographs of their virtual business and post them to Facebook.
Really, the only issue that comes to mind with Mini Café is the fact that it is yet another social restaurant sim. From a technical stand point, the game is still pretty solid and actually fun to play, giving users a good decorative start. It also has a very interesting ethnicity mechanic. Even so, it is disappointing that it is limited only to bonus income and reputation as it feels like a feature that could be taken much further. Perhaps rewarding users with more unique décor? Regardless, the game is still fun and best of all, free.