Times are strange. At least, that’s the case in Shakes on a Plane, where aliens obsessed with culinary competition reality shows have been “chopped” and, not to be beaten, decided to abduct some folks from Earth to cook up all the delicious fast food we’re so…proud of and be the comeback kings.
For some reason, their first step is to abduct one chef’s consciousness and place it into one of their own alien bodies, and then nab a few other random people, none of whom have any culinary experience, to become flight attendants. In addition to the alien chef, you can play as a robot, a vampire queen, or a released convict. Each character comes equipped with their own unique “special” ability–the vampire queen can screech, releasing a few bats and scaring passengers into submission, and the alien chef has increased move speed. This is a neat touch, but the specials don’t really feel significant enough, and when used, cause you to drop things you’re holding (or not be able to hold them in the first place) so they also cost you precious time.
Flight attendants already have a hard job, and this is no normal flight. Whether or not you’re ready for it, standard airline fare has taken a turn and you’ll be in charge of more than peanuts, liquor and coffee, making full meals to order and taking on some other vaguely airplane related duties like handing out barf bags or tossing passengers and their luggage out of a nearby airlock.
Gameplay wise, though Shakes on a Plane mixes it up a little bit, it’s a familiar formula. You’ve only got so much time to handle all the things that passengers on your flight can throw at you, as well as avoid getting flattened by rolling carts, bit by snakes, and to handle unruly children. You and up to three friends can board the flight and start figuring out how to manage the mayhem. If you’re playing single player, like we were, you will acquire an additional player character you can control, with the ability to swap between the two of them at any time.
In Shakes on a Plane, most of what you’re doing initially is serving customers, but as you progress, you’ll be introduced to more and more complex recipes fand more mechanics. In the beginning you’ll be running water and coffee, but by the time you hit the tropics you’ll be grilling shish kebabs, making umbrella drinks, ejecting passengers and trying to prevent a barfpocalypse by attending to airsick passengers with barf bags before they blow chunks.
The difficulty does not amp up slowly, and pacing is one of the main issues in Shakes on a Plane. There are easy to follow tutorials that brief you on the level’s tasks but there’s not a lot of time to get used to one new thing before they throw another at you. This is further complicated by what seems like finicky “hit boxes” for things. Selecting items and grabbing them can prove is imprecise, often causing me to grab extra of an item, not grab something at all, or cycle between those problems. This makes an already challenging game feel extra frustrating or even unfair at times.
The best thing about Shakes on a Plane is its airplane environment. While I’ve played a lot of games where I’m cooking and serving things, I’ve not added turbulence, airsickness, loose creatures, baggage claim and altitude changes to the mix. There’s a lot of added richness here, with a whole bunch of problems to manage beyond burgers and fries. Passenger satisfaction is everything and beyond just serving incorrect food items or not fulfilling their requests, you can also piss them off if you run them over. Since they love to amble about the cabin aimlessly, route planning is essential, unless you’d like them to smugly shrug at you when they get off the plane instead of blowing you kisses.
Route planning is essential for your own safety, too, as rolling carts will lay you flat, meaning you’ll be down for the count for a few seconds. When turbulence hits, you’ll need to buckle up in one of the jump seats or risk losing time while your body lays unconscious in the aisle next to your passengers, and if you’re unlucky enough to have loaded a counter with fruit when the plane starts ascending, you’ll find your fruit departing for the back of the plane. Worst of all, there’s children, or one beanie wearing menace in particular, who will eject people for fun, steal food, and generally make your life a living hell unless you restrain or…relocate him.
Your score is based entirely on if your passengers are happy, with a simple 1 to 3 star rating being possible for each new airport. Passengers satisfaction bars tick down from green to red in levels, and once you’ve finished, and the passengers depart, they’ll tick off how ticked off they were or weren’t, with reactions ranging from an angry disapproving look to a casual shrug or the coveted hearts and kisses. Outright fails are worse than slightly irked passengers, while kissy faces are the way to make it through a level. So-so ratings improve your score a little, but one fail or missed piece of trash can take that score down quick.
All in all, Shakes on a Plane is solid. The gameplay is fun, and even in singleplayer where you’re swapping between two characters, the mechanics are well implemented. Aside from some hit box issues, its controls are instinctual and easy to pick up. Music and art are done well, but don’t particularly stand out. While even after a recent patch to rebalance difficulty Shakes seems a little on the sharp learning curve side, it’s not so impossible that it discouraged me from trying again til I got it. If you really like the genre, you’ll likely not mind adding this to your collection, and it would definitely be fun to play co-op with friends once couch co-op is more logical, but given all the other, more polished titles out there, it’s not the hot ticket we hoped it would be.
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