Proving that you really can make a fun game out of just about anything if you come at it the right way, the food-serving genre has been quite popular in recent years. At their core, most of these games are really more like fast-paced puzzle games than anything else. Customers come in and demand certain dishes, and you have to sling them as fast as you can. Some games throw in food preparation to make things more complex, but even then, you’re just trying to recognize symbols and flick as quickly as possible. Peko Peko Sushi (Free) doesn’t ask you to make the sushi, and instead tries to weave more complexity into its food-slinging mechanics. In the end, it feels a lot like a fun arcade game, the sort that might have slipped out in the 1980s as counter-programming to a diet of shoot-em-ups.
You play as the operator of a conveyor sushi restaurant. You’ve got three belts of sushi that will hold four different types of sushi in various configurations, and two columns where customers will line up. Customers will indicate what kind of sushi they want with a little bubble above their heads, and your job is to drag the appropriate type to them. You’ll earn some points, and once the customer’s appetite is satisfied they’ll move along. If you take too long, they’ll storm out. Each day of business lasts for a set amount of time, and your goal is to score as many points as possible on each day of the week. As you play, you’ll earn special Golden Dishes that can be exchanged for new types of customers, sushi, and customization options for your shop. There are tons of things to unlock by this method, but they’re mainly just for cosmetic purposes.
There is one way that those unlocks can affect gameplay, however. As you unlock these items, you’ll also unlock new staff members. Each staff member has their own special ability that you can use periodically during gameplay, so if you want the full range of options open to you, you’ll need to get unlocking. Honestly, I found the simple joy of collecting things to be enough of an incentive, but I suppose it’s nice to get some tangible rewards. Each unlock is accompanied by a brief note that is either informative or amusing. All of these items are pulled from a random “gachapon" bubble toy machine, with one machine dedicated to new customers, one to new sushi, and the last to restaurant parts. You can’t pick exactly which item you want, but you at least get to choose the category. Further customer types can be unlocked by spending Golden Dishes on evolving existing customers.
These extras add a welcome metagame to Peko Peko Sushi, but the core gameplay is quite compelling all on its own. Once you’ve become accustomed to the basic sushi-slinging, there are a few complexities you’ll want to start paying attention to. First up, if you can quickly serve consecutive customers, you’ll start a combo that increases your score. You’ll want to keep that going as long as possible, which can be tricky unless you let a few customers pile up. Otherwise, your combo might expire while you’re waiting for the next person to line up. There’s another wrinkle to this, however. The sushi belts will replenish automatically if you pause for a second, but if you’re moving quickly you may find them getting a little empty. The movement of the conveyors can mess with your timing, though, so you’ll have to consider that both when choosing where to pull sushi from and whether or not you want to pause to let the belts refill.
Beyond that, you’ll also want to try to pull multiple servings towards customers. If a customer wants tofu, you can satisfy them by dragging one piece to them. But if you can line up multiple servings of tofu in a column, you can drag all of them to the customer for extra points. Not only does making combos and dragging multiple servings help your score directly, it also fills up your fever gauge. When it’s full, you can tap on your staff member to activate fever mode. This slows things down and keeps customers from storming out as fast as they usually do. Some of the staff members have other special effects that activate in fever mode as well.
All of this is wrapped up in some wonderful presentation. The pixel art is detailed and looks great, making every unlockable a treat all on its own. The sushi types are visually distinct enough that you can easily spot the type you need without having to process too much. The audio holds up its end quite well, too. The sound effects are good, and the music is awesome. It’s definitely aiming for a bit of a retro aesthetic, but as long as you’re okay with that you’re going to love what this game is doing with its art and sound. Peko Peko Sushi is free to play. You can watch ads now and then for a temporary score boost or for some free Golden Dishes. You can also buy Golden Dishes via IAP if you’re inclined to do so. Generally, between completing missions and just playing the game, I found I was getting Golden Dishes at a relatively good rate, but if you want to speed things up, the option is there.
With its emphasis on quick action, you’ll need to be able to think and move fast to properly enjoy Peko Peko Sushi. As a result, it can be a little difficult in its early stages, but if you stick with it, you’ll find quite a bit of satisfaction in its gameplay. It’s also surprisingly generous for a free-to-play game, much more so than most free-to-play cooking/serving games available on mobile. It’s not the freshest game around, but it’s well-constructed, fun, challenging, and fair. That puts it near the top of the cooking class on iOS as far as I’m concerned.