Played to completion?: Yes
Number of Saves: 10
Oh, this is fun. It reminds me a bit of Liza Daly's "Dinner with Andre" a few years ago, not just because of the restaurant setting (though that helps). There's also the entertaining writing, the way one disaster leads to another, and the detailed implementation of all kinds of stuff:
>put carrot in lobster tank
You wave the carrot tantalizingly at the lobster, but it seems uninterested.
A less thorough author wouldn't have implemented that at all; a less inspired one wouldn't have made it funny. This game -- especially during the well-polished opening acts -- anticipates a great deal, and deflects the things you're not allowed to do with wit and charm.
The pacing is superb -- the puzzles and the story both progress fairly evenly throughout the duration of the game. I appreciated how later disasters were set up in advance, so that each little episode with the lobster seemed like the inevitable working of fate, rather than an ever-more-elaborate contrivance. I also admired the game's neat division into three acts, and the way any boring and unhumorous puzzles were skipped over in the intermissions. Doing all the setup work of preparing a vegetable soup would have been dull and slowed down the game pace; much better just to cut ahead to the point where it is nearly ready.
And let's talk about the puzzles for a moment. These are, for the most part, great puzzles. No, they're not the most mind-bending puzzles ever, and I don't think I'll be remembering any one specifically for its complexity or its sneaky solution. Individually, they're not works of zarfian genius. There were a couple -- particularly with the stove dial and trying to figure out what range would work -- that were tricky because there was not quite enough feedback on failure. That could be tuned up. It wasn't perfect. But in terms of functioning within the greater whole of the game, these puzzles are very well-conceived. They are just the right level of difficulty: just hard enough to make you feel the PC's pain, just easy enough that you can almost believe in them as improvised on-the-spot solutions. They fit well into their environment. Some are silly, but their silliness is in keeping with the rest of the story.
There are bugs. Once or twice NPC descriptions were printed twice in a row. Disambiguation sometimes behaves oddly. Sadly, these blemishes become more common and more noticeable as the game goes on. There is one point where I think the lobster is supposed to be described as being present, but it isn't -- I can't see it anywhere, but I can hit it, as I discovered from the walkthrough. And then, during the final stages of my epic battle, the lobster was described as lobster_battle or something along those lines. I assume, from the level of polish on early parts of the game, that this means the beta-testers tired before working as much on the later bits, or the author ran out of time to work on it, or some combination thereof.
Things that could be cleaned up, and I hope will be cleaned up for a rerelease of this game, because I really liked it overall. (I realize that the invisible-lobster bug would have made me quit and write a very nasty review if it had occurred towards the beginning of the game. Since it occurs almost at the end, the game had had time to win my trust and affection, and I wasn't about to leave over such a detail. I'm not being completely inconsistent here: the difference between the vanishing lobster in Gourmet and the vanishing dresser in Bio is that the former occurs in the very first room, where it should have been caught by the most rudimentary beta-testing; it completely impedes the flow of the game; and, critically, it happens before I have anything invested as a player.) By the end of "Gourmet" I had a lot of strong feelings -- hate for the lobster, concern for the restaurant, eagerness to be reunited with my lost fingertip. I even found I rather liked most of my customers, except for the irritating family at table one. It came in at just about the right length. I had to look at the walkthrough a few times, but many of the puzzles I was able to solve on my own with a bit of application. (One red herring: Mrs. Davenport's purse, and the notebook inside, are described so clearly that I thought I might be supposed to steal them and read them while she was asleep. It surprised me to find out that they weren't implemented.)
Final complaint: I was startled that it ended when it did. The conclusion seemed a little abrupt. I would've gone for a slightly longer epilogue-- even just a turn or two-- during which to savor my success. Without a few more moves of cool-down time, the fire with my chef's hat seems almost like an afterthought, since the boss monster of the piece is obviously the lobster.
But this is all nitpicking about what is mostly a fine structure. This was novel, charming, and enjoyable, with a good blend of puzzle and light story. With a bit of (mostly technical) cleanup, it could be just about perfect. I loved this game, and I'm happy every time I think back on it.