Little Dragons Cafe is an incredibly unique, genre-blending experience that suffers from performance issues and some overall rocky gameplay.
Ren is our main character. The objective is to manage the cafe owned by his mother, who tragically fell into a coma-like sleep. Following her accident, a strange old man by the name of Pappy magically shows up and brings with him a baby dragon. Ren is tasked with taking care of the dragon, as Pappy claims it will eventually bring the mother back to consciousness.
As the protagonist expands the cafe and adds to the menu, the cast of supporting characters grows one by one. Each new character brings their own unique personality that, simply put, may or may not mesh well with other cafe employees. Some characters are hard workers, others are just in it to have fun. The cafe staff starts out as an odd mishmash of personalities, but over time can be developed into a working, cohesive unit. Working well and improving the cafe’s reputation is vital to progressing through the story, but it also manages to be highly rewarding. It’s addictive in the best way possible.
Creating new dishes is made fun
An aspect I adore is the game’s surprisingly deep catalog of attainable items. The ingredients and recipes found throughout the world get more and more creative, which in turn leads to a satisfying and fun new menu item each time. The player gets the chance to cook a plethora of unique dishes. To do so, they engage in a simple rhythm game that builds upon itself. As the dishes get more and more creative, the rhythm mini-game becomes increasingly complex. This order of progression continuously feels like a logical next step.
Gathering ingredients is a core element of Little Dragons Cafe, but unfortunately, it brings a ton of issues. The game runs fine when the player is in a small, enclosed area, but its performance begins to falter when they venture outside the cafe into the world. It’s a rocky experience all around, as I found myself not able to travel more than a few seconds without the title glitching in some way or rapidly slowing down. In a game reliant on charming visuals strategically paired with simple gameplay, it’s a shame the performance couldn’t be better optimized for the platform. That, or the game suffered from some poor development decisions. Either way, this key aspect of Little Dragons Cafe should’ve been a glowing feature, not a point of distaste.
On top of its often glitchy performance, Little Dragons Cafe includes some terrible load times. I found myself waiting up to 15, 20, even 30 seconds for actions as simple as walking into the cafe. Given that the player is always busy scavenging the world or cooking up new recipes, these load times start to become a burden as the game progresses.
Though its gameplay was underwhelming, the game shines in its character relationships. The cast of characters is designed with a keen eye for expressiveness and emotion. Paired with fittingly witty writing, the characters in Little Dragons Cafe are truly brought to life without the need for voice acting.
Little Dragons Cafe combines so many genres of video games, it’s tough to compare it to any other style of game. It’s an experience that demands the player’s consistent attention in one particular location of the map, but also one that boasts a vast world ripe for exploration. Players must be careful about leaving the cafe for too long, yet ingredients run out incredibly quickly. This presents a choice to the player, one that forces them to precisely manage their time and resources. This is an element that could’ve easily bogged down the game. For such a seemingly relaxing adventure, Little Dragons Cafe is far from it.
I want to love Little Dragons Cafe, and up until a certain point in the game I did. But its buggy performance and overall shaky platforming hinder what could be an amazing game.
A review code was provided by the publisher.