"Cake Mania" encapsulates the entire philosophy of casual gaming: Hook the gamer with a simple mechanic and then turn up the heat like you're boiling a lobster.
By contributor
updated 5/4/2007 7:45:55 PM ET 2007-05-04T23:45:55

Sandlot Games has moved no fewer than 35 million downloads of its casual game "Cake Mania.” Numbers like that cannot be ignored, so publisher Majesco has brought the baking game to the Nintendo DS, the dual-screen handheld rig that Nintendo positions as a gaming machine for all ages and all skills.

"Cake Mania" is compelling yarn that follows Jill, a novice baker armed with her grandma's baking recipes and a score to settle with the big box retailer that shuttered her grandparent's homey cake shop. If Jill can satisfy her sweet-toothed customers and wow the world's baking scene, she can re-open the family bakery and show Wal-Mart — er, the unnamed retailer — that communities flourish when local businesses thrive. Who would have expected such a homily on effects of mass-market retail in such a sweet little package?

The action of "Cake Mania" is pretty straightforward. Customers come into the shop, look at a menu, and then place an order. Jill must then bake the right-shaped cake, slather some colored frosting on top of it and lavish it with a special decoration. Hand the cake over and take the money from the counter. Sounds easy, right?

"Cake Mania" encapsulates the entire philosophy of casual gaming: Hook the gamer with a simple mechanic and then turn up the heat like you're boiling a lobster. Before you know it, you have three ovens working overtime, a variety of frosting stations, a display platter for holding cakes while you attend to other business and a slew of potential decorations. And to really turn up the juice, the entire counter is teeming with customers that are big on cash, but short on patience.

Using the stylus, you click on the different parts of Jill's kitchens to assign her workload. The entire game is one big balancing act, so you must chart out the most effective work pattern to maximize your cash influx during store hours.

Players can input a series of commands without having to physically wait for each step. While picking up the cakes, tap the requested frosting colors and Jill will move from oven to frosting station and back again. By the end of the game, you have to always be working about three moves in advance, so master this strategy quickly.

If a new customer comes in while you are at the frosting station, you can be more efficient by not immediately running to them with a menu, but waiting until you have a task near their part of the counter so you aren't wasting time walking from one end of the kitchen to the other. Doubling up duties is how you serves customers faster and maximize your tips.

Each level consists of a month. Special customers come in during holiday months, like a cupid in February and Dracula in October. Every customer, from little old ladies to these fantastical buyers, has a personality tic to consider. Cupid demands fast service, so make him a priority over the big-headed lug that seems to have all the time in the world.

Between months, you can shop for additional equipment, like extra ovens and frosting stations. You can also buy special decorations that bump up the prices of your cakes, but add just one more thing you have to do to get a customer out of the bakery satisfied.

Be sure to buy the cupcake machine as soon as possible. Handing out freebie cupcakes restores a customer's dwindling patience, propping up your tip when the cake is finally delivered. Investing in new shoes for Jill is also a good idea, as each new pair of kicks makes her faster. Speed is always of the essence, so never skimp when you can upgrade your kitchen.

As you push through the years, Jill's bakeries get bigger and she opens up shop in some pretty goofball locations, like a casino. But even as the backgrounds become more festive, the action never relents. Soon, you're baking cakes with multiple layers for some surfer on the beach while tearing your hair out.

You might occasionally gnash your teeth at the controls, too. The DS' stylus seems like a perfect replacement for the mouse, but the game is extremely touchy. In a hurry, if you miss touching a frosting bucket by even a pixel, Jill won't register the command. If you don't notice the slip and keep issuing commands, you can really botch a game plan and make some costly mistakes.

Another gripe that merits mention: The entire kitchen doesn't fit on the screen, so you might miss a cake sitting finished at the decoration station unless you're in that half of the kitchen. This is aggravating in high volume months when every second counts.

Majesco was wise not only in pursuing "Cake Mania" but also in pricing it at a very attractive $20. The game includes content from the "Back to the Bakery" expansion pack, adding more stages to Jill's adventures in cake and turning the package into a considerable value.

If you missed "Cake Mania" on the PC (what, you aren't one of the 35 million?), then this smart DS port is a good place to start. Just make sure you're as precise with that stylus as a baker is with adding ingredients to a $700 wedding cake.

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