I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. With a title like Cooking Witch, I expected something along the lines of Cooking Mama or even Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit. I thought I’d be tasked with guiding a cute witch avatar through the process of creating Halloween-inspired sweets and treats for the cursed, unholy denizens of the underworld. The truth is, Cooking Witch is about kidnapping pumpkin headed children from a nearby forest festival, tossing them into a pot and eating them. The concept is a little horrifying, though its bright visuals and a soundtrack designed specifically for me allow Cooking Witch to put the “fun” in “boiling children alive to eat them.” It’s all so delightfully ghoulish.
The goal of the game is simple enough: round up as many children and toss them into a giant, smoldering cauldron and collecting the meat that pops out. Gameplay is limited by a timer that tracks the passage of night to day and when the sun comes up, the game is over. The game also ends if the witch’s health is depleted by the gun toting fathers or the booming festival fireworks. Both health and time can be managed by chucking in specific children. While some yield only meat, others generate stars that add time to the clock and hearts that refill the health bar. The only trait that cannot be replenished by items is the witch’s stamina, which dictates how long she can hold onto a child, though it refills quickly over time.
The game, I feel, has roots in the “clicker” genre of PC games. You have full control over the witch’s movements. But at the start of the game, her efficiency is quite low, and the broom is limited to carrying only one body at a time. However, the meat collected in the game is used to purchase character upgrades that increase health, the strength of the broom (meaning she’ll slow down less while carrying people) and stamina. The broom and cauldron can also be upgraded to increase the carrying capacity and yield of meat, hearts, and stars, respectively. Through these upgrades, it gets much easier over time to maximize the number of kids and fathers you can cook up in the time allotted. This is a double-edged sword, however, as the challenge lessens with every upgrade you purchase. The powerless feeling of the game’s first few rounds is fun and exciting but an hour and several upgrades later, the thrill wears thin.
The look of Cooking Witch is simple and perfectly adequate for this type of game. Outside the bubbling effect of the cauldron, it’s not flashy nor does it need to be. The sprites for the pumpkin children are detailed enough to pick them out in a crowd. That said, both corpses--children will die if dropped from a great height--and the knocked out bodies of the fathers are a little harder to spot because they sometimes blend in with the grassy terrain. What really warms my heart is the game’s soundtrack. The “Dream of the Night of the Sabbath” suite from Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique plays whenever the witch flies into the proximity of the cauldron. This is one of my favorite pieces of classical music and to hear it play while I dunk children into a bubbling stew is absolute perfection. John Phillip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever plays while you move through the festival grounds, which makes for a nice, if bizarre, musical dichotomy.
I wasn’t expecting much out of a $2 Steam game but Cooking Witch is a lovely gem. The gameplay is simple enough and uses a variety of missions, such as dropping five kids and cooking three dads, achievements and leaderboards to encourage frequent play. It’s also to a fun way to break the monotony of mundane PC activity. Whether you’re a web designer or working with Excel spreadsheets all day, tossing children into a pot for food is a great way to de-stress from the day.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.