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A family of three (son, mother, father) sitting at a table eating dinner. Image: Visai Games

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Venba expands the boundaries of the cooking game genre

One of the most touching cooking games in years

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Venba is not a cooking game in the way you might expect. Food is, of course, important in games such as Cooking Mama or Overcooked, but in Venba, food is the game. Over the course of developer Visai Games’ upcoming release, which took me just over an hour to play, the studio deploys cooking mechanics as a way to explore the culture and unlock the memories of the titular Venba, an immigrant mother struggling to connect with her young son.

The game begins shortly after Venba and her husband leave Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state, for a new life in Canada. Food, for Venba, is an act of care and a connection to her past; food is the way she shows her love, whether that’s making lunch for her husband every morning or creating a celebratory atmosphere around each nightly dinner. Each short chapter is a vignette encapsulating a year in Venba’s life. These chapters — sometimes heartwarming, sometimes painful — progress through the early days of the family’s move to Canada, teaching moments with their young son, and conflict and heartbreak as the trio grows older.

Each chapter combines visual novel segments with simple cooking puzzles. As Venba, you make recipes pulled from an old family cookbook that’s obviously well loved — it’s battered and torn, splashed with oils and sauces. This is where the puzzles come in; the recipes are incomplete because of blurred words here and a page rip there. Venba pulls from her memories to fill in these gaps, which, combined with the cookbook, gives you the tools you need to make the dish. Each recipe is beautifully rendered in Venba’s stylized, colorful art style, everything from a complex biryani to a towering puttu.

Steamed rice cake in a box, with two smiley faces painted on with sauce
These are steamed rice cakes called idlis.
Image: Visai Games

The recipes slowly build in complexity, but none are too challenging to solve. Because in Venba, that’s not really the point. The game is not testing your controller skills. Instead, it’s using the physical act of cooking — the delicateness required to pinch spices into sizzling oil or the dexterity to flip ingredients before they burn — to give further depth to its story.

What Venba adds up to is a short, touching story about the life of an Indian Canadian family — the beauty and joy of Tamil culture alongside the struggle of immigrant parents and their kid. It’s a complex relationship depicted between parents and a kid, as their son pushes away from Tamil culture in exchange for fitting in. The food and recipes evolve alongside this changing relationship, and help move the game along in a way that feels focused and natural.

Cooking tools, including a recipe book and a pot Image: Visai Games

That sort of pacing is a huge feat for a game like Venba, which packs decades of Venba’s story into just over an hour. It would have been easy for the story to feel partial or rushed, but the cooking segments really help in slowing down even the most intense moments, letting me linger and feel before moving on. Venba never once loses sight of its emotional core, and it’s paced expertly throughout its short but powerful run time.

I would have loved more Venba, with its vibrant sound, touching story, and mouthwatering food, and yet, I still feel like Visai Games has told a complete, focused story.

Venba will be released on July 31 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Steam Deck using a pre-release download code provided by Visai Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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