Venba Review (Xbox Series X)
I hope I’m cooking this correctly.
Available on: Steam/Consoles
Genre: Narrative Cooking
Publisher: Visai Games
Playing games may be my main hobby and past time, but I do have other things I like to do. One of those is cooking. I love cooking recipes I know I like and finding recipes to try something new or even try copycat recipes to make better versions of fast food. Some recipes are a lot of work or take a long time (or both), but eating some delicious food and seeing others enjoy my food makes it all worth it. Well, the main drawback is having to wash all the dishes. Anyway, the point is that my love for cooking also extends to cooking within games (after all, no dishes to clean). So when I heard about Venba around two years ago, I was instantly interested.
In Venba, we get a brief glimpse into the life of an Indian family that immigrated to Canada. At first, it’s just a young couple that seemed to be quite new to Canada. There’s Venba, who shares her name with the game’s name, and her husband Paavalan. When we first join them Venba has been feeling unwell for a couple days. Paavalan is worried and convinces her to go to the doctor, but not before showing how helpless he is in making a simple dish, idli, for his lunch. Heck he doesn’t even have to make the batter, he just has to pour it into the molds and let it cook! Sigh.
Venba and Paavalan was actually thinking about moving back to India as their life in Canada hasn’t been going the way they thought. However, something, or should I say someone, came to throw a wrench in thier decision. Venba got pregnant and now they have to think what is best for their future child. They, of course, decide to stay and from here we see the struggles they ended up having. We see them struggle with trying to adapt, being passed up for jobs they want and have experience in when they were in India, and the struggle of their son Kavin slowly growing more and more distant. Kavin not only grows distant from his parents, but also grows distant and rejects his culture. It’s really heartbreaking how Venba tries to connect with Kavin and show him Tamil culture only for Kavin to push her away.
There are some dialogue choices that pop up every so often, though most of them don’t matter much. There’s only one sequence that does, which will determine what you’ll learn about a part of Venba and Paavalan’s past.
Between the story segments, there are cooking segments which I’m sure a lot of people are going into this game for (I know it was mostly why I did). It’s actually pretty easy as you just need to click and drag the ingredients into whatever cookware the recipe calls for. You also get to do some other actions that help in the process of cooking these dishes like turning up/down the heat, flipping the food, and putting on the pot’s lid. However, there is a bit of a snag here. You can’t just toss everything in and expect it to turn out perfect like in cartoons, you have to do things in the right order. Venba not only brought along a lot of kitchen equipment, but a cookbook her mother put together for her so she can still feel like she has a part of her mother with her all the way in Canada.
Except, well, Venba did not take good care of the cookbook and now a lot of pages have smudges and rips (I just have to wonder how it got this bad). Luckily, most of the recipes are salvageable and most of the steps are still readable. You just have to figure out the rest either by trial and error or by the clues given to you. I really liked this puzzle-y approach to cooking. The game does also remix this as we get cooking segments based on trying to remember how a recipe is made and trying to read a recipe in a language you’re a bit rusty in. These cooking segments are pretty easy to figure out and I only had trouble with one of the recipes. Nonetheless, there is a hint system just in case you get stuck.
In addition, there is also flavor text for most of the food (with some having multiple flavor text). It depends on the dish, but the flavor text gives some more information on the dish being prepared, some insight on what’s happening currently in their community, insight in their own thoughts, or even reminiscing on the past.
I love Venba’s cooking segments and I didn’t mind how simple they were (after all, I played and loved Cooking Mama to death). And even though I do wish we got more of restoring Venba’s cookbook, I do think the game had a perfect amount of dishes for us to cook. Though there is one chapter in the latter half where Venba is making a lot of dishes, but you just have to do all of the actions and none of the figuring out. I like what this shows us, as it shows how she knows these recipes by heart and her love language is cooking, but we do lose the puzzle-y aspect of restoring the cookbook here.
Also, this game really makes me want to make the dishes that were showcased. They look so good (both in-game and irl) and seem like they would taste good. The majority of recipes do require specialized equipment (like a pressure cooker) though, but I’m certainly going to look into how to make the few that I can do. I was thinking of following the game and using online recipes to fill in any holes.
Venba is a short game, which works both for and against the game. I wouldn’t want this to be stretched out and good pacing to go out the window, but at the same time there are some parts of the story that could have been elevated if we got more story in between the larger time skips. I do actually think the first half of the game is paced well. The time skips weren’t too large and you can pick up on the things that happened in between that go unsaid. It’s just when you get into the latter half that it feels like the time skips were too big and you’re rushing to figure out where everyone is at in their lives. I felt like we could have gotten a couple more scenes so we could have gotten more insight on Kavin, see him change rather than having to assume it, and help the ending feel more powerful and meaningful.
Before I close this review out, I do want to give out a couple miscellaneous compliments really quick. I like the Tamil music that was chosen for the cooking segments, I love the art style and how colorful everything is, I especially love how the food looks, and the sound of the food sizzling and steaming as it cooks. I’m glad I ate before I started playing as this would have made me hungry. I also like the subtle details like how you can tell how shaky Venba’s English is by how some of the English dialogue boxes look and how different Venba and Kavin cook. I also really liked the scene where Venba is remembering cooking with her own mom before she left India and how it subtly parallels to what’s happening with her and her son.
Venba is a sweet, but short game that will just have you wanting more once you reach the end. The story here is interesting, I liked learning about Tamil culture and food, and I really liked the colorful art style and the cooking segments. I just mainly wish that this game was a tad longer so we didn’t get big time skips and so the ending wouldn’t have felt lacking.
However, despite liking Venba I don’t know if I would recommend it for $15. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed when I heard it was a 1-2 hour game, especially since I’ve been looking forward to it for two years. I still think the game is lovely, but it’s probably best to get it while it’s discounted or play it through GamePass.