Off-beat simulation game developer Kairosoft has slowed down their iOS releases considerably in the last couple of years. That was probably a wise move, given how many elements each of their games tends to share with the rest. With new games from the developer coming only a few times a year now, it's easier to appreciate each one of them on their own merits, and it hasn't hurt that their recent releases have demonstrated an effort to break out of the reskinning that categorizes most of their work. The Ramen Sensei [$4.99], their latest iOS release, isn't as innovative as it could be, but its tight focus on its unusual subject matter helps it stand out a little. That said, unless you're really into the subject of ramen, this game is still essentially preaching to the Kairosoft choir.
As with most of the games from this developer, The Ramen Sensei sees you running a business. This time, it's a ramen restaurant business. It starts with a single shop, but you can eventually expand into a chain of restaurants. Running the business successfully entails a lot of the usual Kairosoft work, like attracting new customer types, winning competitions, managing your staff, and upgrading your facilities. The most important thing you need to take care of is, appropriately, the soup itself. Real ramen shops pride themselves on their individual recipes, and the proprietors often show a surprising amount of passion for their particular combinations of ingredients. Unfortunately, you can't afford to be such a believer in your recipes. The name of the game here is getting to know your customers and customizing your offerings to suit their preferences.
Making the soup is this game's main innovation. You choose the broth and noodles that you want, decide who among your staff puts the final preparations on the recipe, and even select the toppings, arranging them in the bowl to make your ramen look just right. Certain combinations of toppings work better together than others, though you're limited in how many you can use at once based on your level. Once you've put together your ramen recipe, you can add it to the menu and let the customers have at it. The more a customer visits your shop, the more likely they'll be to reveal exactly what recipes they like best. Serving their needs is not only good for business in general, it also helps you to win competitions and unlock new items and features. They'll also introduce new customers to you, keeping the cycle moving.
Winning competitions is important because, along with leveling up, the prizes are the grease that keeps the gears turning. You'll earn new toppings, broths, and noodles, get the right to open shops in other cities, and earn building permits through these contests, and they are one of the best ways to earn experience points. The competitions play out in a dramatic fashion, with you and your competitors having stalls set up to serve whichever ramen you've selected to the customers that come along. Whoever scores the most points in a set amount of time wins, and points are earned by pulling in a lot of customers and satisfying them as much as possible. You can see ahead of time which customers you'll be expecting along with whether or not your soup does it for them, so it's not hard to plan things out to maximize your advantage.
I feel like the whole subculture around ramen and ramen shops is fairly well-represented here, albeit filtered through the Kairosoft lens. The passion and reverence for the recipes certainly play to a specific niche, but part of what's fun about Kairosoft games is that they're not afraid to tackle narrow categories. Sadly, the old problem rears its head once more here. Beyond the momentary excitement of being able to arrange ingredients visually, there isn't much here to get the engines running for players who have burnt out on this developer's particular brand of simulation. The visual design is the same as it's always been, with the customers being the usual wacky line-up of characters we've seen since Kairosoft's earliest games. The soundtrack has a couple of new tricks, but like the temporary thrill of arranging eggs and chives, it doesn't take long for you to get over it.
If you love ramen and have been waiting for a sim that captures all of the spills and thrills of running your own chain of shops, well, you might as well bite on The Ramen Sensei because I somehow doubt anyone's going to be doing it better than this. Similarly, if you devour Kairosoft games like the last few cashews in the bowl of mixed nuts, you'll enjoy yourself here. It's all done to their usual standards, after all. On the other hand, if you've tasted this soup too often in the past and are wondering if the new toppings mean anything for the flavor, you might want to go somewhere else for lunch. Kairosoft knows just how its customers like their soup, and at this point, expecting them to create something totally different is like hoping for Burger King to retire the Whopper.
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