Venba has probably been on the radar of many for a while now, but somehow it had completely passed me by. That all changed when the opportunity arose to attend a preview presentation hosted by Popagenda. It gave Visai Games’ Game Designer, Abhi, the chance to explain the cultural background and share key parts of the development process. In that short space of time, Venba tickled my taste buds and left me with an urge for more.
For those unfamiliar, Venba is a short narrative-focused cooking game centred on the titular Indian mother and her family. She immigrated from Tamil Nadu in the southern part of India to Toronto, Canada in the 1980s, which is where the game takes place. It follows her life with husband Paavalan and their child, Kavin. Through the process of cooking and restoring a damaged recipe book, you’ll naturally witness conversations and explore the story within. It’s essentially about family, love, loss, and adapting to new surroundings.
It’s the little things that aim to really emphasise the struggles of settling into a new place and there are clever ways in which this is highlighted. One of the best examples is regarding the fact that Venba and Paavalan speak Tamil, while Kavin is obviously more accustomed to the English language. Through the use of speedy text dialogue, often obfuscated, it gives you an idea of how tricky the language barrier could be for someone trying to process what’s being said.
Spanning almost three decades, you’ll be able to see how the family adjust to this new life and grow between the years 1988 and 2017. Food is a crucial element in connecting the two generations together while important stages of their lives play out during this time period. As such, almost every storytelling moment is accompanied by cooking, with many authentic dishes from South India on the menu. Expect to conjure up the likes of biryanis, dosas, idlis, and puttu.
The cooking aspect isn’t a chaotic experience like Overcooked!, instead it appears to be a more relaxed, yet puzzling setup. With the recipe book tattered and worn, occasionally you may have to fill in the gaps yourself to work out what the elusive steps are. Alternatively, there are moments where the damage is so bad that relying on Venba’s vague memories of making a specific cuisine with her own mother is your only source. It’s possible to fail, but help is always on hand should you need a nudge in the right direction.
The team behind Venba, Visai Games, have ensured that the recipes are relevant to the situation by avoiding ingredients that wouldn’t necessarily be readily available in Canada at each specific point in time. Furthermore, they recreated the dishes in real life in order to figure out the aesthetics and how to stylize the animation of the ingredients as well as the apparatus needed. It has ultimately led to the dishes looking rather appetising and wonderfully vibrant, if what I have seen so far are anything to go by.
And then you’ve got the sound design that adds to the experience, with specific sounds recorded to introduce a whole other layer of authenticity. I’m talking about them holding a microphone next to a pan to capture the sputtering of oil in it and such. On top of that is an original soundtrack composed by Alpha Something, featuring various artists. It’s inspired by Tamil music popular in each of the different moments of the family’s lives and hopes to pay homage to different composers from those eras.
The overall feeling I’m left with is that Venba is shaping up to be an ideal introduction to Tamil culture, which could invoke players’ curiosities to delve even deeper. Even after the presentation alone, I became intrigued by the cultural aspects and so I would expect that to develop further upon actually being immersed in Venba.
Those curious about Venba won’t have to wait long as it’s expected to arrive on 31st July for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam. It’s also hitting Game Pass at launch too.
A huge thanks to Popagenda for the fascinating insight into the development process Visai Games have gone through with Venba. We’ll certainly be following up with a full review, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the not too distant future.