With my eyes closed, I could make you a coffee, a sundae, an orange smoothie and a chocolate-topped pie. Even writing the sentence, I can feel the muscle memory kicking in. It’s been so ingrained from playing Sweet Bakery Tycoon that even reading the words ‘orange pie’ has me pressing A, up, left, A (wait a minute) and then double-press A. It reminds me of learning moves on Mortal Kombat (Bake-ality!).
Sweet Bakery Tycoon is made by the same folks who brought us Food Truck Tycoon and it is, if we’re brutally honest, the same game – but with the setting and food changed. If you liked that brand of fast-paced food preparation, then you’re in luck.
For those of us who haven’t played that game, don’t worry: you might have played games that are similar. Diner Dash, Yum Yum Cookstar, Overcooked! and more are all variants on the same theme. Customers arrive with a particular set of demands – a couple of pies and a smoothie, perhaps – and it’s down to you to dish them up before the customer gets pissy and leaves.
In Sweet Bakery Tycoon, making the dishes isn’t about performing a set of minigames (Yum Yum Cookstar), or physically moving about the kitchen (Overcooked!). It’s about selecting the right things from a kind of bakery dashboard, in the right order, and presenting the Frankenstein’s creation to the customer. A pie – Sweet Bakery Tycoon’s bread and butter – is made by putting a basic pie on the worktop, adding one or two flavours, then chucking it in the oven. The oven ticks down in real-time, before pinging and giving you the opportunity to sprinkle on a topping. Then it’s served up, in or out of a box for takeaway. If a single element is out of place, the customer will shake their head and you have to shove the pie in the bin.
If it sounds simple, you’d be wrong. Because Sweet Bakery Tycoon’s customers are gluttonous bloaters, and they tend to turn up asking for three pies each. They queue up next to each other, meaning you have to satisfy multiple orders at once. As with other games of this type, success comes to those who can mentally queue up different orders, as well as overlap construction of different dishes. Pie is in the oven? Maybe it’s time to squeeze in a couple of smoothies.
The result is the Mortal Kombat we were talking about. As we played level after level, the dishes became reflex. We were instinctive bakers, tapping out button combinations automatically. It got to the point that we ended up dreaming of Sweet Bakery Tycoon. We were tapping on our pillow as we imagined a particularly long order of chocolate tarts.
It is a befuddling mess when you first start. Snapping from item to item on the bakery worktop is not something that comes naturally, and you might even wish for a cursor instead. Plus you have to learn the visual language that Sweet Bakery speaks in. Although it does its best to gradually introduce dishes, there were definite points in Sweet Bakery Tycoon where we didn’t know what it wanted us to make. Smoothies in particular are a pain: is that a picture of a blueberry and raspberry smoothie, or a blueberry and orange smoothie? It took a deal of trial and error to perfect it.
That was possible because there is a very clever little ‘auto-aim’ at play in Sweet Bakery Tycoon. It almost imperceptibly snapped us to the ingredient that we needed. Got a pie with caramel sauce on it, but the customer wants raspberries too? When you move to the ingredients, the cursor will automatically land on the raspberries, giving you the helping hand you need. It’s so good that, when it fails to help you – some complementary DLC gives you boxes which don’t have the auto-aim attached – it is very, very noticeable, and not in a good way.
As with a lot of games of this type, you have to be built a certain way to enjoy it. Frantically micro-managing orders against a time limit might sound like work. If you’ve got kids or a high-pressure job, you might say ‘stuff it’ and hoick Sweet Bakery Tycoon into the bin. But if you’re in the mood, it can be intensely satisfying to memorise all the different dishes, pulling them off in seconds. Honestly, it’s reached the point where we could make you a coffee in less than a second.
All of the baking is collected into discrete levels, where you have to achieve certain dollar scores if you want to complete them. Stars are awarded for how well you do. As Sweet Bakery Tycoon progresses, the levels get harder and faster, but they also introduce new recipes. Soon you are baking with sprinkles, chocolate, vanilla and more. But to balance the increased difficulty, you can spend your money on upgrades. Extra ovens, serving placements and improved coffee machines are a must, while you can also upgrade the quality of your ingredients so that customers have to pay more. Yep, you get to gentrify the area with an artisanal bakery.
Like an episode of Ready Steady Cook!, all the ingredients are there for a delicious meal, but Sweet Bakery Tycoon slightly overbakes it. It becomes stodgier and stodgier as time goes on. The problems come in the variety of levels, and how well-paced the unlocks are.
You’d expect each level to try something new. Maybe one level would be more sundae focused, as punters want you to handle ice cream more than pies. But Sweet Bakery Tycoon never goes there: each level feels very much like the last, with no theming or fancy obstacle to overcome. It’s great for sending you into a meditative state where you can make dishes without thought, but it’s bad for variety.
That’s made worse by an approach to unlocks which is very much front-loaded. You get every ingredient at about the quarter-mark (if you include the attached DLC levels), and you will have upgraded everything fully at the halfway mark. That means roughly half of Sweet Bakery Tycoon is dedicated to the same rigmarole of making pies and smoothies. Bizarrely, the customers also seem to forget to order coffee and sundaes: we’d say that ninety percent of customers just want pies and smoothies, which leaves half of the ingredients unused.
Not everyone is going to willingly invite the pressure and multitasking of Sweet Bakery Tycoon. But for those that do, this is a surprisingly intuitive, delicious-looking little time-management sim. In terms of portion size, though, it’s too big: the bland levels got dished up over and over, and we were overstuffed. We’d definitely recommend plating up about half of Sweet Bakery Tycoon and leaving the rest behind.