After spending 15 minutes with Cake Mania: In the Mix!, itís easy to see how the series has garnered a following on the web. The simple yet addictive micromanagement with its sugarcoated design can snare just about any casual gamer. Whether youíre looking to kill a few minutes or a full hour, Cake Mania offers the same addictive gameplay found in many similar flash-based games, like Flash Tower Defense or Castle Defense, and builds on with another layer of complexity. Combining the servicing styles found in Diner Dash with the constant vigil required by tower defense games, it seems like this game has what it takes to snuggle in with the bevy of casual fare found on Nintendo's Wii. After just 10 minutes, though, I found out this is not the case.
The story follows Jill, baker-cum-entrepreneur, as she ventures out of her bakery to help her friends by setting up bakeshops around nine different locations within their established businesses. The locations, with themes ranging from the future to a secret base on the moon, are as varied as the ninjas and nurses that stop by for some sweet treats. Unfortunately, the bits of story are terribly disjointed and do little to take advantage of Jill's adventures and the strange situations she finds herself in. The gameplay remains unchanged throughout, as you wrestle with nearly 20 decorations to create unique cakes loaded various combinations of flavored icings and toppings to pregnant women and aquarium divers.
The progression of the game is very fluid and allows players to upgrade their bakeries at a comfortable pace. This is an absolute must for games of this genre, as unloading all upgrades on a player at once would be confusing at the very least. The difficulty increases exponentially whenever the player is ready to undertake the process of upgrading their bakeries with additional ovens and frosting pallets; even for a seasoned gamer, each upgrade can be overwhelming. The formula is easy to understand and proven to work with the point-and-click controls on the PC and with the DSí stylus, but the wii-mote control scheme fails to keep pace.
Navigating the characters and objects seems simple enough. To move Jill you just point her to a desired location using the on screen cursor, then press B to grab an item and A to set an item down. Easy,right? Well if it was, I'd still be baking cakes rather than writing this review. The execution for this port is incredibly sloppy, leaving no leeway for slight twitches and with confusing, overlapped graphics. I found myself micromanaging the next 2 to 3 customersí cakes only to realize later that the initial cake I baked was completely wrong, resulting in a penalty multiple times over. Due to this I ended up with smaller profits, meaning less money for upgrades, which meant that I couldnít keep up with increased customer demand. I eventually adjusted to the game and started to bake more carefully, but then it started to feel as if each extra second I was taking to confirm my selections would result in lower customer approval ratings. Eventually, my plummeting ratings would leave me in the same dilemma as before.
What felt like a simple enough game turned into a nightmare due to the spike in difficulty. I was not able to upgrade quickly enough to catch up to the demand, and in turn fell down a slippery slope to failure. What's worse is that this was only the first level after the tutorial! These nuisances are not easily overlooked in multiplayer co-op, either: they become amplified as you and your partner have a much harder time keeping track of the cursors and which cakes are in the oven. Youíll both end up having more fun beating the life out of one another with your wii-motes out of sheer frustration than you will fighting with the controls. Itís a shame more tweaking wasnít done to resolve these issues, as Cake Mania could have found a great home on the Wii.
You would think that the Cake Mania: In the Mix! formula would work, especially for the niche crowds which continue to propel Nintendo's ďRevolutionĒ to the top of the sales charts. This is by no means any more the Wiiís fault than it is the developerís, though. The game is fun when it works, but it falls apart during the faster sequences as your wrists twitch like crazy to keep up and you end up frustrated just trying to make a selection. Even for lovers of the PC version, itís best to stay away. The multiplayer is too aggravating to be worthwhile and the plot lines aren't even worth a chuckle, leaving the console version with nothing great to call its own. Even if this is your first Cake Mania, you would be better served sticking with the PC version: it's much cheaper and, more importantly, it works.