Food is a huge part of any culture, crafted from cooking with whatever was available, with years of recipes passed down through generations. These dishes can become a crucial part of a person’s cultural identity, a topic that Venba manages to weave into its narrative of a South-Indian immigrant family moving to Canada in the 80’s.
Developers Visai Games managed to use every moment in the game to craft a story that left a strong impression on me. Coupled with the charming art style and a detailed sound design, Venba managed to roll up a heartwarming tale into a bite-sized length of an hour.
Set in 1988, our protagonist Venba recently moved to Toronto with her husband Pavalaan and was not feeling very well one morning. Having to make lunch for her husband and herself anyways, she brings out her mother’s recipe book, full of homemade South-Asian flavours, and begins to make a pot of steamed idli for lunch.
Unfortunately, the recipe book was stained, damaged, and entirely torn out during the move, which left parts of each recipe missing or completely unreadable. Now, Venba (and you) have to make sense of what’s left to recreate the dishes through trial and error.
Across the different chapters, I found that most of the cooking puzzles could be solved within one or two attempts without much hassle. Even if you did make a mistake, Venba would make a quick explanation of what went wrong and let you restart, giving you a consequence-free retry and letting you try a different approach.
These sections never felt distracting to me and kept the narrative flowing with small bits of dialogue from characters with Venba. It felt like a normal conversation someone would have while cooking together while providing hints to the player should they need the extra nudge. With lively Tamil music playing in the background and great sound foleys paired with the cooking, it was a satisfying experience to complete each puzzle from each chapter.
What kept me hooked to the story was Venba’s relationship with Pavalaan, and eventually their son Kavin, and the struggles this family faced during their time in Toronto. A common theme showed the couple struggling to find higher employment and struggling to make ends meet while witnessing Kavin struggling with his cultural identity clashing with trying to fit in with the other kids.
However, the narrative did feel wordy at certain points but this was remedied by the interactive moments of dialogue choices and smartphone tapping, a well-timed break from clicking more than a jarring pause to the story.
I also wanted to give props to the little details developers Abhi and his team scattered throughout the game, adding some context to the situation. For instance, the dialogue bubbles would occasionally be coloured differently to show that the character was speaking in Tamil or English, emphasising Venba’s attempts at keeping the family speaking Tamil. Occasionally, some speech bubbles would be obscured, hinting that the reader wasn’t able to understand that particular sentence so well. It seems minor, but it helped connect better with the characters’ struggles of learning a new language.
It’s these little details, along with the overall game, that I found myself appreciating from the two hours I took to finish the game. For its length, the price tag may feel like a stiff one, but for an indie game with so much heart and charm, it’s worth the price tag.