Hands-On Preview: Mad Chef

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, what is the craziest iOS game of them all?” It would have been a close call a few days ago, but now that Foursaken Media (Bug Heroes, Bug Heroes Quest) have unveiled their latest project, the answer is clear.

It’s difficult to describe just how crazy Mad Chef is in a way that does it justice, but let me try this. Imagine if Bobcat Goldthwait grew a beard, set up a concession stand on a New York City curbside, and began “cooking” by chucking meat cleavers at a stream of food and condiments tossed high up in the air. With Game Center achievements.

At its core, Mad Chef is a tycoon sim that contains all the genre’s depth but has a tap interface as casual-friendly as any we’ve ever seen on iOS. Like Fruit Juice Tycoon 2, Haunted Domains, and countless others before it, Mad Chef serves up a queue of fretful customers who give the player a limited time to serve them. The better the service, the greater the tips. Games in this vein usually feature chores that are mundane when you really think about it — crushing berries and washing hotel linens wouldn’t be gameable tasks on their own, so the fun usually lies in working them into a complex string of events. Mad Chef veers off in the other direction by giving the player a single responsibility from opening to closing time, and that is to strike ingredients zipping through midair.

So let’s briefly go over how this works in-game. Suppose a customer waltzes up to the Mad Chef’s concession stand of horrors and orders a salad. The Mad Chef’s dutiful apprentice begins rummaging through their fridge, randomly tossing ingredients from the player’s recipe inventory over his shoulder. When a head of romaine lettuce enters the stream of airborne objects, the player taps on it to launch a knife or whatever slicing implement the chef is currently equipped with. A puff of juicy lettuce leaves results, most of which are caught by a second assistant who dives in from offscreen with a cutting board, catching them with all the glory of an NBA champ going for a surprise slam dunk. Bonus points if the player happened to spray the screen with a fount of pepper by annihilating a condiment shaker beforehand! Striking the wrong ingredients – or heaven forbid, a customer! – understandably depresses the player’s earnings.

Most dishes demand that several ingredients be pinned to the assistant chef’s cutting board in sequence, and the current item to watch out for is tagged on an order ticket tucked into the top-left screen corner. We’ve spent only a short while with Mad Chef so far, but we’re already impressed with how the game dynamically changes the continuous stream of objects to suit the current dish. Whether the player can successfully prepare a dish doesn’t depend on chance; it depends on whether he or she can strike the needed ingredient that will definitely appear once or twice before the customer leaves, and distinguish that ingredient and compatible condiments from decoys. Given the first person perspective you might expect it to play like Call of Duty: Restaurant Chain, but casual players can rest assured the targeting system is pretty forgiving.

Between cooking segments the player can splurge the Mad Chef’s earnings on new recipes, special skills, new dangerous implements to throw — and ultimately, expansion into upscale restaurants! In addition to the normal mode of earning money, the player can also try his or her hand (well, make that “pitching arm”) at an infinite mode that shakes up the gameplay formula very nicely. Rather than queue up in an orderly line, infinite mode customers bombard the player all at once; to keep some semblance of order, he or she will have to select one customer to serve and prioritize them by patience remaining. Customers place a more general order here than in the normal game mode, requiring some food pyramid skills to figure out which items are the correct ones to hit.

We’ll have plenty more to say about Mad Chef come release day, but this is one to keep an eye on even if you’re a casual gamer unfamiliar with the more hardcore offerings Foursaken Media is known for. Bearing the depth of a typical time management/tycoon sim but also the simplicity and devilish splattering fun of something like Fruit Ninja, Mad Chef is shaping up to be a truly standout title.

No word on a release date yet, but keep an eye on Foursaken Media’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed for the latest.