ChefVille: A complex but tasty treat on Facebook

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After being announced at Zynga Unleashed earlier this year, ChefVille fell quietly into the background with no official release date or many details outside of a brief preview as to what to expect. Now that the game has gone live on Facebook, we've been able to "taste" the ingredients that make this one different from Cafe World (another Zynga game), and even different from Restaurant City, a former Playfish Facebook title that the game more openly resembles.

ChefVille's basic premise isn't terribly original, as you'll be given a restaurant to expand and update, cooking both generic and exotic dishes for animated customers that arrive, eat, and leave automatically. You'll have just a Grill and Brick Oven to get started, cooking a handful of beginner dishes within each appliance (intermediate and expert dish categories will come at a later date), with real-world recipes that can eventually be unlocked for your use outside of the game. An intuitive quest system keeps things moving forward, as you're introduced to a variety of colorful characters from around the world, each with their own themes. Ginger, for instance, is a vegetarian that likes to keep things fresh, while Madeline is a helpful teacher that only wishes to expand your cooking techniques.

The game's quests aren't as varied as its characters, mainly asking you to collect specific ingredients or cook dishes until you master them, which is convenient, as these two features will see the majority of your attention outside of quests anyway. While beginner dishes are unlocked to you from the beginning, you won't actually be able to cook them until you collect the ingredients necessary to do so. Most of the game's first recipes require just two or three ingredients to prepare, with an early focus on tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and sirloin beef that eventually expands to contain lemons, milk, various cheeses and salad greens (and so on and so forth). As in the real world, ingredients like tomatoes, cheese and meats are required in large amounts for a huge chunk of recipes in the game, but the game doesn't provide enough avenues to quickly earn these ingredients in equally large quantities without constantly playing the game and micromanaging every plant or store you have at your disposal.

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Tomatoes, for instance, grow on two vines that you're given at the beginning of the game, while Sirloin is available only after you ask your friends to help you complete a meat shop that produces it. These items (along with many others) will constantly create ingredients every few minutes or hours, but unless you're dedicated in collecting them, you'll frequently find yourself forced to cook a dish for a quest only to have to scramble to find the ingredients to do so in a timely fashion.

There are a handful of social features that help alleviate this strain, but at the same time, there is the expected focus on spamming your friends for items that balances that out in a negative fashion. When visiting your friends' restaurants, you'll be able to interact with not only their ingredient plants or buildings, but can also sample their available dishes for a chance to earn one of the ingredients that helped prepare them. Reputation Hearts also come into play, allowing you to purchase extra ingredients in the store (without using real money, which is also an option), but the ratio of Hearts to ingredients is far too skewed to the side of "unfair."

Your restaurant will quickly outgrow its walls, forcing you to expand out into different grassy areas on the map, with expansions requiring you to have earned a specific number of mastery stars, coins, and recommendations before unlocking them. Mastery of most of the game's beginning dishes only requires serving said dish 1-5 times, but as you'll need to collect a whole set of ingredients each and every time you wish to cook the dish, this can still be a time consuming process (not to mention the fact that some dishes require 16 hours or more to prepare). It's still nice that ChefVille focuses more on ingredient collection than simply cooking a dish dozens of time as in Cafe World, but again, the limitations put on your game in terms of how many ingredients or cooking stations you can have at once (along with limited counter space to serve dishes) seems to be counterintuitive. These elements make the game harder than it needs to be, especially as you reach Level 10 and beyond when the difficulty and complexity of quests increases dramatically.

Back on the topic of expansions, recommendations are earned by asking your friends for roses that are served to VIP guests. At this very early stage, when active friends are difficult to come by, it can take a matter of a week or more if you're relying solely on the free roses you're given every eight hours to unlock a single expansion. As with so many other of ChefVille's features, true progress in this area will likely eventually boil down to asking your friends for roses every day. Of course, if you waste your limited daily requests on asking for roses, you won't be able to ask for building materials required to unlock or upgrade appliances, ingredient stands and so on. It's the same cyclic setup that we've seen across most every Facebook game (whether developed by Zynga or otherwise), that encourages the use of real money to purchase premium currency.

As with most games, players that are willing to add dozens or hundreds of strangers as Facebook friends will have little difficulty progressing in ChefVille, and they'll find a fairly enjoyable, downright beautiful game (graphically speaking) in the process. However, for the player that wishes to only play with friends, the game becomes a bit too difficult and time consuming after Level 10 to warrant extreme dedication until the player base expands.

Ultimately, there's no major deal-breaker that should stop anyone from giving ChefVille a try. However, before dedicating hours, days, or even weeks to the game, you might want to wait for Zynga to start cross-promoting the game so that you'll actually have friends to play with, increasing your rate of progression and overall making the game a much more entertaining time.

Click here to play ChefVille on Facebook ----->

Have you tried ChefVille on Facebook? Do you think Zynga's second cooking game is better than Cafe World? Feel free to share your thoughts on Zynga's newest game with us in the comments!
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