Cooking Mama turns bad in Happy’s Humble Burger Farm.
A horror cooking simulator isn’t something I expected to exist, but video games on Steam are anything but predictable so I found myself playing Happy’s Humble Burger Farm. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I ended up enjoying and disliking the game in equal measure, due to some really fun ideas and an interesting story that was sadly paired with confusing design decisions and painful bugs.
After having a bizarre murder-cow infested dream that acts as a tutorial, you wake up in your apartment with a guide to working at the titular Happy’s Humble Burger Farm, your new source of employment. You’re instructed to pick up a headset, through which you hear your boss telling you to set off to work. Whilst you’re free to explore the local area, there isn’t much to find at this point, so off you go to your first day at work.
This portion of the game has you cooking food to order, and delivering to customers within a time limit. Should you complete your day’s work with as few mistakes as possible then you’ll head home with a healthy pay packet. Should you make too many errors, you’ll be in for an unpleasant time, but more on that shortly. Each day you’ll go in and complete a day, with more difficult tasks being added. Starting with cooking and serving burgers, you’ll end up making side orders, drinks, hot dogs, and managing a drive-through. These activities are quite enjoyable, and the time pressure combined with the occasional random event like catching rats keeps the days interesting. There’s an Endless Mode that can be unlocked that focuses on this aspect of the game, and I certainly appreciated having that option.
The other element of Happy’s Humble Burger Farm is discovering just what the hell is going on. This town you’re in is certainly far from normal, and the events at your place of employment absolutely has some secrets hidden away. After a couple of days, the town hub opens up more, with previously closed off areas becoming accessible, leading to some horrifying events, and even bosses that you’ll need to defeat using your well-honed cooking skills. These are quite diverse and all need to be approached in different ways, acting as fast-paced puzzles. Completing these will reveal more of the story via cassettes — many of which are hidden in the environment too — as well as crafting recipes that will be required to progress through the story.
Between work and fighting gigantic animalistic monstrosities, you’ll be spending your money on items needed to craft newly discovered items. There are other secrets to be discovered using crafted items, as well as progressing the story itself. It’s a neat enough system that gradually opens the world out to you. You’ll often find places you can’t go if you’ve been exploring early on, but once you discover the crafting system, you’ll realise that it’s only a matter of time before you can access them. In many ways, this is a very linear game, but one that you can explore at your own pace.
With that said, the difficulty at the Burger Farm will increase as the game goes on. You’ll likely find yourself making more mistakes leading to consequences. Evil Happy will turn up and demand you cook an Evil Burger. This is additionally challenging, as if you take your eyes off them, they start trying to kill you. Then there are all the other weird things that will start appearing, like explosive monsters, and little creatures that will switch off the cookers if you aren’t paying attention. It can be quite challenging to keep on top of everything, but even then I really enjoyed these sections of the game.
The other sections are enjoyable, but I kept coming across increasingly annoying bugs that really set back my progress and utterly shut down any enjoyment I was having. If you start a crafting recipe, you can’t take back the items, and if you then leave the area you’ll return to find they’ve vanished. This happens with items in your backpack too sometimes, which is very irritating if you’ve accrued a number of items that you need to progress.
Most frustrating of all for me though, was the time I defeated a boss, only to die on my way out of the area, which then reset me to just before I killed them. This in itself is fine, but I discovered all the items I needed to beat them again had completely vanished from my backpack. I’d have to go through the whole thing again, but this time with part of the area flooded with lava as an event after my previous victory had no reset. This kind of bug utterly ruined the experience for me and is inexcusable. Quite how this couldn’t have been picked up during testing is beyond me.
The presentation is interesting, with an art style reminiscent of 1980s VHS movies and low poly character models and stilted animations. It reminds me of a lot of experimental horror games doing the rounds these days that are trying to replicate the style of PS1 era visuals, which can certainly have a positive impact on the scares. The use of glitching effects on your display can set you on edge, as often you’re not sure what exactly has happened until you’re being rushed by an explosive monster ready to take away half your health. There’s little music, but what’s there fits the atmosphere fairly well, and the limited sound effects again work with the aesthetic. I certainly have no complaints in this department.
I really wish I could have enjoyed Happy’s Humble Burger Farm more, as there’s some really fun content here. Those bugs were utterly infuriating though, resulting in what should be a fairly well-paced game taking significantly longer than it should have done, with far more frustration than fear. I want to like this game, but there’s too much that’s off-putting. It’s probably better to leave this one off the menu.