GDC 18: Hands On With Little Dragon Cafe | Broken Joysticks

Apr
11

GDC 18: Hands On With Little Dragon Cafe

Written By: Victoria Rose

Last month at the Game Developers’ Conference, we at Broken Joysticks got the opportunity to play an in-development demo of Little Dragon Café, the new game headed up by Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada and his new studio, Toybox. The game borrows the relaxing Life Simulation gameplay of its creator’s previous works, but adds several modern twists to the formula to keep things fresh. 

One of the things that sets Life Simulator games apart from other contemporaries in the Simulation or RPG genres is the pacing and tension of the core gameplay loop. Instead of the complex resource management of the former or tense combat systems of the latter, Life Sims tend to gravitate towards a more meditative process of repetition of simple tasks to reach long-term goals. The player is given less to worry about on an immediate basis compared to a full-on Strategy game. Little Dragon Café looks to be leaning more towards this pure Simulation genre than its Harvest Moon predecessors by giving players many more factors to manage, but intends to keep the core mechanics of its Life Simulator roots. 

Swapping out the farming gameplay of Harvest Moon for finance, gathering, and cooking mechanics, Little Dragon Café puts the focus more on managing a business than gardening. Players are expected to keep kitchens stocked, dishes made and on hand, and employees in line to succeed. This leads to a more fluid gameplay loop wherein players will have to make more careful decisions about how they spend each in-game day. Going on expeditions for ingredients with your titular dragon buddy is obligatory, but managing inventory during them brings to mind contemporary game Slime Rancher more than other Harvest Moon games. Players must act quickly and conservatively to maximize output during expeditions, adding that aforementioned tension to the mix. 

Prototype Plush Dragon From The Games’ Special Edition

Of course, this is all in service of the café itself, where the business management aspects come into play. Players must cook all dishes served in the restaurant, look after customers, make sure employees are happy, and be the caretaker for your dragon. Cooking is done by a simple and short rhythm mini-game, and customer interaction is handled in a similar manner as NPC interaction in Harvest Moon. The greater amount of tasks to do in Little Dragon Café adds to the hectic nature, and pushes the game more towards a pure Simulation experience. 

Little Dragon Café has loads of potential and a striking, colored pencil shader aesthetic. Even in its early state, it is clear to see how this game can potentially find its niche between its two source genres while providing something truly different from its predecessors. This is one to keep an eye on. 

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