Being a Filipino-American based in the San Francisco Bay Area, hearing stories from my peers about their experience growing up with immigrant parents isn’t a rare occurrence. I’m fortunate enough to have been immersed in a variety of Asian cultures while obviously adhering to my American roots. People adjust to this differently and while this is nothing new to me, I never expected to see such a story end up in a video game with food as the sticking point.
Developed by Visai Studios in Canada, Venba tells the story of an Indian family that emigrated to Canada hoping for a fresh start. For the most part, you play as the wife Venba and the action in the game begins with you making breakfast for her husband before work.
Cooking takes center stage in Venba, and it’s as easy as following a recipe from your mother’s cookbook. Well, it would be that easy, if the cookbook was in better condition. It’s been torn apart, marked over, or had key components of every recipe smudged, and it’s here where puzzle solving comes in. Venba is very much a cozy game, but if you get any part of the cooking process wrong, you have to start over.
Let’s take the breakfast you’re tasked with making, for example. The dish is Idli, a light and savory rice cake that’s a popular yet simple dish in south Indian cuisine. The game gives you everything you need from the ingredients to the cooking tools. It’s just up to you to properly steam the Idli, and in order to do that, you not only have to place the batter in special Idli plates before putting them in the steam pot, but you have to make sure the plates are aligned so that the steam can travel up the plates evenly. You’re also supposed to cover the plates with a towel before you pour the batter in so they don’t leak–and it’s this detail that got smudged out in the book. Again, if you mess up, the game makes you start over again, and every step is quick so you don’t have to worry much about lost progress.
Seeing all the ingredients come to life and become authentic South Indian cuisine is a huge part of the joy in Venba, and its storytelling using food as the bridge between chapters really sets this game apart from other cozy indie games I’ve enjoyed.
At the end of the first chapter, you find out Venba is pregnant with a son, Kavin, and in the next chapter you’re dealing with him running around before asking his parents to order pizza. But instead of pizza, Venba makes puttu, another popular rice dish but with the fun of it looking like a rocketship which Kavin finds exciting. From puttu to biryani, and plenty of other Indian dishes, the foodie in me was absolutely salivating with every dish I made. The increased difficulty of each dish also gave the pacing a nice touch.
Tying it all together brilliantly is the music. The game has its fair share of lyrical jams, but the tone and mood of the music in combination with the watercooler-esque art style took the storytelling to another level. I don’t want to give all the details out, but there’s a point in the game where Venba is really excited to cook and makes a whole dinner spread consisting of over five dishes, only for her to have that excitement taken away from her when she realizes nobody would be eating her cooking. Food is an essential love language in my family, and I felt the sadness Venba felt in this situation, and the game’s soundtrack really intensified every feeling whether it’s while you’re cooking or just during a story-driven dialog scene. Everything just sings.
There’s a lot more I’d like to say about Venba, but saying anymore would simply spoil the experience especially considering the game is extremely short and shouldn’t take any player less than two hours to fully play through. After finishing the main story, you also have the option of going back to any chapter and replaying them which I did to clean up the trophies get the platinum–namely the trophies that require you to complete every dish without making a mistake and read all the flavor text. Doing this takes hardly any time at all. If there’s any complaint I can make about Venba, it’s that I wish there was more. The introductory trailer when it was first announced at Wholesome Games two years ago showed way more dishes being cooked, so maybe it’ll be DLC? Still, Venba is a real joy to play with its awesome art style highlighting representation in Indian cuisine, along with a heartfelt story and amazing soundtrack to boot. Like any new food, you just have to try it.