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Sunny Café Review

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Some of my favourite visual novels have hobbies. C14 Dating might look like an Otome-style dating sim, but it has a fervent love for archaeology. Arcade Spirits is just as focused on running an amusement arcade as it is in finding you a partner. Clearly, for me to like a visual novel, it needs a side hustle.

Continuing the trend is Sunny Café, a visual novel with a traditional objective – to find your obsessive protagonist, Bowen Wu, a partner. But along the way, you are going to learn a lot (a whole lot) about coffee and being a barista. It’s head over heels about the brown bean, and it will geek out about the beverage at any opportunity. 

Sunny Cafe review 1
Sunny Cafe is a good old visual novel

Like listening to someone chat about their passion, it can go either way. If you’re like us, there’s something utterly charming about someone – and, in this case, an imaginary someone – talking endlessly about what makes them tick. We don’t care for coffee, and we certainly couldn’t taste-test a Kenyan coffee from a Colombian. But the writers of Sunny Café clearly can, with a blindfold on. And somehow, it makes for a satisfying read.

But this feeling won’t be shared by everyone. Even we have to concede that playing Sunny Café can, on occasion, feel like reading a Wikipedia article. The characters get a glazed look and start regurgitating swathes of information, not always about coffee. Occasionally it lapses into a self-help book, pouring out very skippable dialogue about letting go of your passion and seeing the goodness in front of you. We freely admit that we tapped A through a few sections.

But if you have a soft spot for visual novels and a fascination with people talking about their passions, then Sunny Café is for you. Virtually everyone here waxes lyrical about coffee, and there’s just enough personality to sprinkle like chocolate dusting on top. Alvin Zhang is a perennial freeloader who just likes spending time in the space, while Bella Chen is an influencer who could have been irritating but instead has a good heart: she can’t help but promote her favourite coffee shop. 

The story is about as low stakes as it gets. This isn’t a coffee shop that is closing or losing money. Everyone is happy, with just the smallest piece missing from their lives. And everyone likes each other, or at least puts up with each other. It’s the story of Bowen Wu, son of the owners of the Sunny Café. They’re off gallivanting around the world, looking for the coffee secrets of other countries, while Bowen feels eclipsed by them. He wants to run the Café, but it’s been handed to a more mature manager, and he feels consumed by the need to make better and better cups of coffee, to the detriment of his private life. But his friends recognise this flaw and push him to date. That’s pretty much the arc of Sunny Café, culminating in a staff bonding trip where Bowen can choose his paramour.

Sunny Cafe review 2
That just so happens to love coffee

The visual novel stuff is frothy and light. It’s got the odd mistranslation and typo, but it’s mostly well written and engaging enough (when it’s not losing itself in the Wikipedia stuff). We connected with a couple of characters over its three-to-four hour timeframe, and tripled our knowledge on coffee. But it’s not necessarily the visual novel stuff that charmed us with Sunny Café, as it’s got other skills.

More minorly, there’s a fun ‘peekaboo’ side to Sunny Café. Hidden in the background are cups, strainers and coffee pots from various regions around the world. They’re slightly raised, like stickers applied to the screen, so they’re easy enough to spot. But move your cursor to them and you fill out a coffee codex and net an achievement to boot. It’s a neat little side game to the reading, as long as you don’t get too distracted. We found ourselves missing the odd chunk of text because we found our attention wandering to look for stickers.

But that’s not the big diversion in Sunny Café. If you want to get to know characters, you need to be making them a pot of the brown stuff. So, you hop behind the bar and participate in sequences of minigames that approximate making artisanal coffee. A memory game represents the choosing of ingredients, while a golf-like power bar determines the heat. Our favourite involved scanning some terribly written notes for numbers that are plugged into a grinding machine. It’s like reading a doctor’s prescription. 

It’s all done rather well, better than some games that dedicate themselves to simulating cooking. It’s also massively forgiving, as you can repeat each step until you get them right. It’s not perfect – a stay-in-the-lines game isn’t suited to a game controller – but it’s never less than diverting, and a welcome interruption to all the reading. We’d have liked it to be more snugly incorporated into the visual novelling (there’s no real impact on the dialogue, and some characters turn up, ask for a coffee and then leave without a ‘how do you do?’), but perhaps we’re expecting too much.

Sunny Cafe review 3
Visual Novel fans will love this one

Visual novel skeptics can probably remove a half mark or two. Sunny Café embraces some foibles of the genre, particularly telling rather than showing, and failing to hire an editor to cut sections down. It’s low stakes and deeply in love with, of all things, coffee making.

Visual novel fans, however, can be reassured that Sunny Café is one of the good ones. It’s a coffee paradox: the writing is light and frothy like a dalgona (thanks Sunny Café for teaching us what that is), but short and rich like an espresso. It’s a blend of visual novel and minigames, and the combination is on the nutty side.

If you can imagine that combination of flavours passing your lips, then Sunny Café might bring the coffee connoisseur out of you.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Clean, well presented menus
  • An endearing passion for coffee
  • Everyone is at least likeable
  • Fun digressions into coffee-making minigames
Cons:
  • Some editing issues
  • Can ramble and dive into cliche
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Eastasiasoft
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 27 March 2024 | £12.49
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Clean, well presented menus</li> <li>An endearing passion for coffee</li> <li>Everyone is at least likeable</li> <li>Fun digressions into coffee-making minigames</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Some editing issues</li> <li>Can ramble and dive into cliche</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Eastasiasoft</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 27 March 2024 | £12.49</li> </ul>Sunny Café Review
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