Venba is a narrative cooking game, where you play as an Indian immigrant mom, who immigrates to Canada with her family in the 1980s. Players will cook various dishes and restore lost recipes, hold branching conversations and explore in this story about family, love, loss and more.
I’m beginning with the conclusion: Venba is an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it. 10/10. There is so much I want to rave about; let me dive straight into some of my favourite things about the game. Hopefully, it all comes together in the end.
The game begins much like a visual novel, with the player progressing through the various dialogue options that pop up. The dialogue boxes themselves are differently coloured for each speaker. Pink for Venba. Purple for Pavalan, Venba’s husband. Blue for Kavin, their son, born and brought up in Canada. When the characters are speaking in Tamil, the colour of the text is white. When they are speaking in English, it’s yellow. In the absence of voiced dialogues, these little details are incredibly useful. Moreover, over the course of the story, Kavin’s dialogue box becomes stained with splotches, indicating the growing difficulty Venba has in understanding her son.
The core gameplay, apart from the interactive dialogue, is of course the cooking. The developers have reimagined intricate Tamil recipes into little logical puzzles. The cooking segments are not a test of speed like a lot of cooking simulation games (I’m looking at you, Overcooked). They are more cosy and forgiving of any mistakes. Hints are always on hand, but it is possible to figure out the recipe even without them. The visuals are amazing, and the team has gone above and beyond with the foley.
Now, despite the relatively cosy nature of the game, the story does pack an emotional gut punch. This is the first game I’ve played a game with Tamil characters, Tamil food, Tamil music, and all the other little details that make up the culture. My heart was thumping as I played, very aware of how much of me was on the screen.
I have not lived through either what Venba or Kavin have, but the raw truth of the story resonated hard with me. I empathised with Venba. I got frustrated at Kavin’s thoughtlessness. My heart broke when Venba … okay, I should probably avoid spoilers, right? Lead developer Abhi mentioned in an interview that his ultimate goal is for people to play the game and be moved to call their mom afterwards. And that is definitely the emotion the game invokes in you when you finish it.
The final thing I will mention is the soundtrack. Every time we cook a dish alongside the characters, a radio is turned on, and nostalgic, beautiful Tamil songs begin playing. Composer and lyricist Alpha Something has created unbelievably amazing soundtracks. that are reminiscent of popular film songs and undeniably add to the immersion. They can be purchased separately, but a few of the songs are available for free on YouTube.
If I had to bring up any cons, it would be that the game is much too short. My first playthrough took about an hour and a half. There are different dialogue options to explore and achievements to unlock, so the game does warrant at least a second playthrough. Priced between £11.99 and £13.49 (depending on the platform), it is well worth it, at least to me.
Even if I don’t play the entire game again, I know for a fact I will be coming back just to make some idlis and dosas occasionally.