Venba is described as a narrative cooking video game, but to my surprise, it was much more than that. Underneath its colorful graphics is a game with soul, and heartbreaking moments that will make you tear up. I played and completed Venba via Game Pass on Xbox Series X in about 2 hours (yes, it’s a super short game), and here’s my review.
Venba is all about an immigrant Tamil family coping with their life in Canada in the 80s and 90s. The main character in this game is Venba, a lovely lady whose journey as a mom trying to give her family the best possible life will end up tugging at your heartstrings. Soon, Venba and her husband Pavalam have a child named Kavin.
What connects the parents to their roots in India is food – delicious, mouth-watering food. But since Kavin is born and brought up in Canada, things are different from his perspective. I won’t give much away but this, basically, forms the core of the simple story of the game.
Players will emotionally connect to Venba and feel for her, as she grows old and her son grows up in a foreign land. I found myself silently sobbing toward the end, all because it’s a completely realistic scenario that most parents go through. If you are someone who can relate to the story first-hand (of being an empty nester, being an immigrant parent, or a child of one), this game is going to stay with you for a while.
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. – Harriet van Horne
For most of the game, you will be pressing a button to take the conversations further. Occasionally, there will be dialogue options to choose from, as responses. As you’ll see, Venba and Paavalan undergo trying times related to jobs and fitting into the new society which is completely different from India. You’ll see Venba’s attempts at ensuring Kavin doesn’t forget how to speak his mother tongue, while also helping her husband cope with rejections and struggles. Amidst the future which looks bleak at this point, the one thing that lifts spirits is food – but Kavin seems to reject it, much to the dismay of Venba. The story goes through multiple time jumps and the cooking happens at all stages, for different reasons.
Cooking is love made visible. – Anonymous
While the cooking mechanics are simple – just drag and drop the item into a cooking pot (or on one occasion, a Puttu maker) – it isn’t a cooking game that only involves mindlessly bringing the ingredients together in a pan. They are puzzles with a challenging aspect to them, which can be confusing if you aren’t much of a cook or haven’t dabbled in cooking South Indian food before. The gameplay revolves around cooking based on an old recipe book that has faded text and torn pages. The tough part is understanding the order of adding ingredients, figuring out what the missing lines of text could be, and creating a flavorful masterpiece without a single error. The whole process is engaging and keeps you hooked. Just make sure to not press the ‘revert the entire thing’ button right in the middle of a complicated recipe accidentally (like me).
I had fun while trying to figure it out and honestly ended up learning a lot about Tamil recipes. There’s lots of detail in the chalk-drawing style 2D graphics because the food looks super yummy on-screen. I am definitely going to try making Rasam, Biryani, and more in real life. Thanks to Venba and her mum’s recipe book!
The people who give you their food, give you their heart. – Cesar Chavez
Overall, if you have 2 hours to spare on a quick, casual visual novel – you should play Venba. It’s a fresh theme for a game (previously only seen in films, series, and books) that weaves the cooking gameplay almost seamlessly into its story. The graphics are unique and eye-catching and the awesome music takes things up a notch. As the credits appear on a book with pages being turned, it’s evident that this game is all about transformation – of people, of relationships, and of food.
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