ChefVille review

Zynga’s latest title ChefVille is now available on Facebook. The game is attempting to do several things: resurrect the ailing restaurant management genre, appeal to established Zynga fans, and bring in “foodies” as a specific player demographic.

ChefVille casts players in the role of a new restaurant owner aiming to make a name for themselves in a small local community. The game begins with players designing their avatar — which may be male or female, and customized with a selection of facial features and clothing — and then introduces the various core concepts of play.
The player’s time in ChefVille will be split roughly equally between finding ingredients and using them to cook various dishes. Each dish requires a specific combination of ingredients, some of which may be found in logical places (bread may be found on a rack outside the town bread store, tomatoes may be found growing in the garden) and others, such as salt, which must be acquired by visiting friends’ restaurants. Once ingredients have been found, the player must use an appropriate item of kitchen equipment to create the dish. Bubbles representing the individual ingredients appear over the player’s head and must be clicked on, then the dish takes a period of real time to cook — though as usual, these tasks may be sped up with hard currency.
Once the dish has been prepared, the player earns points towards “mastery stars” for the dish, and it is served onto one of the restaurant counters. More counters mean more dishes may be served at once, and more mastery stars mean a greater number of servings come from a single cooking action. In an interesting touch — and a nod to the foodie audience Zynga is hoping to court — some dishes unlock a shareable “real-life recipe” upon achieving two mastery stars.
Customer orders can be taken automatically by wait staff or by the player, with the latter option providing more soft currency rewards when the customer pays up and leaves. Wait staff will continue to take orders while the player is not actively playing, allowing for the generation of income even if the player has no energy left to play — assuming they have left some items on their restaurant’s counters, of course.
Over time, the player’s influence in the town expands and various new areas open up, providing access to new ingredients and thus more foods. These shops must either be staffed by friends or populated with game characters, hired using hard currency. Similarly, constructing some items — especially those that provide regular income of ingredients — requires the player to either request help for materials from friends or cough up further hard currency. It’s a very conventional system that Zynga has used with great success in its previous titles, so as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke…”
Social features are a little limited right now aside from the “friend-hiring” and help requests. Gifts may be exchanged between players, and visiting each other’s restaurants provides rare ingredients and currency income, but there is little incentive (or indeed ability) to directly interact with one another. Players are encouraged to visit friends through the reward of “hearts,” the game’s social currency, but there are relatively few items which actually require these. Moreover, hearts can simply be purchased using hard currency, somewhat diminishing their “social” value.
Perhaps more concerning for the game is the fact that a number of bugs and technical issues are evident. When returning from a friend’s restaurant, for example, the game regularly gets stuck in a loading loop requiring the page to be refreshed in order to continue. The interface, too, sometimes has issues when a button is in the same screen location as an interactive item in the game world — several times during testing the game registered a click on the button as a click on the object behind it instead of the button itself, leading to wasted energy points. Flaws like this are unusual to see in Zynga games, which are usually polished to a fine sheen before being released to the public.