REVIEW: Millennials are killing the restaurant industry—again!—in 4-player co-op thrill PlateUp!
Did you know that approximately 1 in 5 small businesses fail within the first year? Well, that number is definitely higher in the PlateUp! world.
Just the Facts
Developer: It's Happening
Publisher: Yogscast Games
Release Date: Aug. 4, 2022
Review copy purchased personally.
A local and online co-op game with up to four players, PlateUp! flips the script on popular cooking games like Overcooked by adding roguelite progression. With a goal of completing a 15-day run, you’ll select randomized map layouts that consist of a kitchen, a dining room, and occasionally a third small “office” room, then choose a recipe for your restaurant to serve. Each food has different pros and cons — like pizza, which has multiple steps to craft but is a batch food that serves four portions, or burgers, which cook quickly but are very messy, creating grease spills.
Once in your kitchen, you and your crew will take orders, cut, cook and assemble foods, and serve them to customers with limited patience timers before they run out. You’re also responsible for your own dishes and cleanup, including regularly wiping the floor of the messes your customers make so they don’t slow you down and spread as you walk through them.
You’ll repeat the process for as long as you can manage. And that… may not be long. Because in between days, you’ll be able to spend your profit to buy items and appliances that upgrade your restaurant and make your job easier; but you’ll also occasionally have to select between two cards that feel sort of like the cruel twists you’d see on Cutthroat Kitchen. Okay, so adding a side of broccoli to the menu is not quite as flashy as having Alton Brown force you to do all of your cooking from inside a ball pit. But it can be just as ruinous! Sides are pure sabotage in this game.
The roguelike elements give the game a difficulty curve that you don’t expect, as well as a restaurant management feel that requires you to keep your chef-brain at least two steps ahead at all times. If you and your team are not at the top of your game, a charcuterie board can be the death of you. A fail state comes when a customer's patience meter runs out. Each step in the service process has its own meter, so there are a lot of opportunities to fumble it.
Still, with simple controls, using just movement and two buttons to interact and complete actions, it's a very approachable game and suitable for many skill levels.
However, if you do make it through the full 15 days and successfully beat the map, you have the option to franchise the restaurant, keeping some of the cards you selected. You can access your active franchise later from the main headquarters. Surprisingly, though, this isn't a way to continue playing at length when you just want a more casual option to hop in and out of: You can still fail at any time in a franchise and lose it forever.
Every single element requires cooperation and communication with your kitchen staff: where the sink should live, who is doing the dishes and clearing plates, who is churning out recipes, or whether you can afford to splurge on the Roomba for spills or the calm painting that grants extra patience to your fast and furious customers.
Once you’ve acquired a research desk, you’ll also be able to upgrade appliances before you buy them, turning a single-wash sink into a power sink or dishwasher (sink upgrades are a MUST, so you know), turning a counter into a freezer to give yourself a head start at the beginning of each day, or transforming a mop into a robot mop that takes care of splashes for you. These upgrades are also random and can add to the chaos, though. You might just wind up with an unwanted danger hob, which cooks — and burns — food at double the speed.
Additionally, you'll have to choose between the four restaurant themes: Affordable, charming, expensive and formal. Each brings a different aesthetic style to your restaurant and introduces unique and lucrative perks when you’ve earned enough theme decoration points, such as customers creating less mess or paying more for your food.
With all of this, PlateUp! requires a delicate balance and a thoughtfulness toward both the servers’ and cooks’ needs. It’s the kind of game that will have you saying to your business partners, “You don’t understand what it’s like in here! Walk a mile in my wellies and then see if you still have grounds to talk!”
One of the trickier pieces to navigate is when queues begin to form outside. Then, you’re managing not only the dwindling patience meters of your customers inside, but also those of your potential customers waiting to get in the door. Queues outside are even impacted by randomized weather, running out of patience more quickly when waiting in the rain and cold. Patience meters, those ticking time bombs, will wring you dry any chance they get and take you straight to game-over.
Amid the frustration of losing a round — sometimes, tragically, just one or two days away from the end of the 15-day run — it’s a whole lot of fun. It's incredibly satisfying to narrowly escape failure, throwing down a plate at the very last second before a timer runs out (and then frantically doing it all again). There’s a great, peppy, earworm of a soundtrack to each day that will keep you going… while kind of having the same effect as hearing the mind-numbing, all-day radio hits at your first retail or food service job.
While it has such simple gameplay and an even simpler aesthetic, PlateUp! takes a lot of skill and offers immense variability with the roguelite randomization. This means near-endless replayability that adds big value to the game's pretty reasonable price tag.
On the other hand, the randomization can create some limitations. For example, if you want to pursue a more automated and hyper-efficient restaurant with items like conveyors, auto-platers, and dumbwaiters, you'll often need to buy multiple of the same appliance for it to be useful, which is challenging when it's up to the luck of the draw. If you've been earning a high enough profit, you have the opportunity to re-roll your selection of shop items for a better chance to make a pair, but each time you use the re-roll function it raises its price. So, in our experience so far, sticking with the more standard items and upgrades is an infinitely better use of time and money. At times, that can make the play experience feel same-y as you're often aiming for similar restaurant builds.
There are some areas where I wish there was more variation, like in quantity of recipes — but I’m pretty sure I can’t even fully blame the game for that one. It seems to take quite a while to unlock additional recipes (our crew currently has a total of five after about 20+ hours of play time), and if I had to guess, we’re just not up to snuff yet to get the remaining four entrées. Still, I can see a lot of potential for the game's future if the developers choose to occasionally add or swap out new recipes for players, adding even more variation to the gameplay over time.
What’s great about PlateUp! is that it can be as simple or as advanced as you’d like it to be. There is a whole potential for automating your restaurant, making for a more complex and management-heavy experience. But if you’re more keen to stick to the basics and put in the elbow grease, it’s doable (I mean, like, really hard, but doable) to snag a victory with some run-of-the-mill items and basic upgrades, as long as your teamwork and timing are synced up to perfection.
You can also play the game solo, although it presents its own challenges to be in charge of both the cooking and serving — and the game's Twitch integration capabilities add another way to play.
In short: if you have 1 - 3 friends, love punny restaurant names and micromanagement, and are unafraid of failure, put PlateUp! on the menu. And for the love of all that is holy, please look out for those beige puddles the customers left on the floor. We really don’t know what’s in them, but judging by the sound effects, it can’t be anything good.
video games are good and PlateUp! is . . . GREAT. (8.5/10)
+ excellent 1-4 player co-op, challenging, wide breadth of randomized items and upgrades are engaging and add longevity
- not many recipes, adding sides to menu is a failproof victory-killer, roguelike elements can be limiting
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