Video games tend not to be simple stories of home life. Guys with guns sell so much better. But unlike film and television, where there’s a healthy market for things that escue the blockbuster, in gaming not so much. Even without the giant budgets, indie games usually follow the same rules of killing, competition, sex and violence as their bigger, more expensive brothers. That’s what makes titles like Venba so special.
Sweet, fascinating and best finished in a single sitting, Venba does what so many games ultimately fail to do: it makes an impact. Not because we are wowed by the graphics, or the set pieces or the memories of epic moments. No, it is because it matters.
Following the story of a Tamil family as they try and find their feet in Canada, the game shows the importance of food in family life, and the difficulties of an immigrant family as they try to find a new life. Along the way, we experience the heartaches of family life, and the inevitabilities of time.
Part visual novel, part cooking sim, you alternate between watching moments in this family’s lives and cooking traditional Tamil food. Don’t worry: you have your mother’s cookbook. It’s a bit messy, and sometimes you’ll have things to work out. Ultimately, you’ll cook up a delicious storm.
Gameplay and Story
The most important thing about Venba is that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The story moves on at a fantastic pace, and most of the mini-games remain fun. If it had tried to drag itself out longer, it would have suffered. It can be finished and mastered in a couple of hours. For the budget-conscious, it can be played on Game Pass. I would heartily recommend it for subscribers.
Most mini-games have you putting together recipes by moving ingredients from one place to the other in the right order. There are other moments where you might need to hold a button or swirl your mouse. Each recipe comes with additional information and dialogue, shining a light on some of the context of the dish.
The hardest part is working out the recipe itself. Some of these “damages” in the cookbook are clever, and some feel a little opaque for the sake of it. There is a hint system for those that struggle, and you’ll never slow down too much.
Elsewhere, you’ll be doing lots of reading. The story skips across nearly 30 years, dipping into important family moments. It is well told, and you come to like the characters. Nobody is flawless, which makes the game feel really relatable.
Sometimes things slow down a little, especially if there’s some animation. This is annoying, but it is rare and with how short the game is, it doesn’t suffer.
Graphics and Sound
Because the focus is on the story, it is important to have a strong visual style. Venba does. It is beautiful. Stylised and cartoony, but still quite realistic – especially when it comes to food. It’s an interesting looking game that works well for its style.
The sound design is great too. Every sizzle will get your belly rumbling. Music is an important part of the game, and suits it well too.
Venba Review – Conclusion
Venba does what it does extremely well. It is difficult and honest, and not showy. It does what so many games fail to do, which is tell an honest human story. And while this is more common in visual novels, Venba still manages to stand out.
It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. Some people need to kill. But for those who like to cook, or smile, or cry, this is one for you.