Brunch: a late-start, laid-back, Sunday morning meal where carbo-loading is king, and it's perfectly acceptable to pile as many waffles onto your plate as physically possible. Panic: a state of uncontrollable fear and anxiety; also an excellent Sega CD game. These are two worlds which don't often collide, perhaps — but they come together in full force in CIRCLE Entertainment's latest 3DS eShop release, Brunch Panic. A mobile-style take on tapping, swiping, and serving up food, Brunch Panic is simple but cute enough to satisfy for quick pick-up fun.
You might not expect a game centred around breakfast foods to have much of a story, but Brunch Panic surprises with the tale of young Bonnie, a girl who loves to bake and longs to see the world. Luckily for Bonnie, her birthday brings a timely gift from her generous grandpa: a travelling food cart that lets her do just that. With a pack full of flour and a head full of dreams, she drives off to Paris in search of adventure. For the player, that adventure is broken down into five Worlds of ten stages apiece, where you'll work your hardest to fill the stomachs and hearts of Bonnie's loyal customers.
On the bottom screen you'll find food, ingredients, toppings, and beverages, and you'll need to quickly assemble them using the stylus according to your customers' orders as they appear on the top screen — the faster you feed them, the more points you'll get. There are four spots at the counter, but only one plate to work with on the bottom screen, so multitasking is the main event here; at any given moment you could be juggling four different requests, and you'll need a plan and a quick hand to get the most points per plate.
Things start out easily enough - in fact, the first few stages are so mindless that it's easy to imagine poor Bonnie being bored to tears by her new job, passing either bagels or croissants to continuous streams of identical-looking businessmen and balloon-toting children. Once things heat up, though, the source of the game's title becomes clear. By the second World you'll be juggling a two-slot waffle iron, a toaster, two types of pastries, whipped cream, honey, coffee, milk, and the seemingly endless combinations of orders that they entail, and it's not long after you'll have eggs to flip, sausages to fry, and bubble gum to hand out.
In gameplay terms, this all manifests itself as a digital, brunch-themed version of Bop It — tap here, tap there, swipe there, repeat — and for all Bonnie's running around, the actual player input is incredibly straightforward and repetitive. Sure, you'll need to make sure you're tapping and swiping in the right places, but beyond that there's very little that distinguishes bagel-flinging from toast-flinging from waffle-flinging. Every fifth level is a timed rush where you try to serve as many customers as possible within a minute, and that does help to break things up a bit, but the stages still wash together and feel almost indistinguishable when played one after another. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however — this is a game made to be played in short bursts, and in that context, it shines.
You can earn up to three stars per level depending on how well you do, so dedicated score-chasers have some incentive for replay value — but the real reason to earn those stars is the game's Coordinate option, a nifty little achievement system where players can earn different customization options for the food cart. By clearing worlds, reaching star totals, doing well on individual stages, or serving a certain number of customers, you'll be able to unlock new body colours, patterns, wheels, awnings, and adorable accessories (including balloons and even animals) for Bonnie's ride. It's a fun visual reward for progressing through the game, and everything's doled out at a steady pace so there's always something to look forward to, and something to go back for.
Brunch Panic doesn't use the 3D effect at all, and its graphics are Flash-game basic, but it makes up for it by being supremely cute from top to bottom. We're not just talking about the bright, colourful look or the fun manga-style slice-of-life cutscenes either — cuteness extends all the way to the options menu, where the music volume is measured in croissants, and sound-effects levels from one to six waffles. There are a few hiccups in the presentation, like some surprisingly salient load times and a flaky translation ("The office worker is always on the go. He always do a short stop at the store."), but there's also a lot of heart here, and for younger players or anyone who appreciates the starry-eyed cartoon characters, the good will definitely outweigh the bad.
The soundtrack provides a fitting accompaniment to the sugary visuals, with phenomenally catchy bubblegum synth-pop, smooth groves, and enjoyable elevator-style music setting the tone. Aside from the rush stages, however, the tracks only change with each new World, and they can start to get old after ten consecutive levels - another reason Brunch Panic is best enjoyed in smaller portions. Japanese voice acting is a fun plus, and as another multilingual bonus, the game's text can be set to English, Japanese, or Traditional Chinese.
Make no mistake, Brunch Panic is more whipped-cream waffle than hearty Full English. This is a mobile-inspired tap-and-swipe game with simple, repetitive gameplay and graphics, and it's not going to fill anyone up until dinner. That said, it does what it does very well, and anyone looking for a breezy, reflex-testing diversion will find a lot to like here. For short sessions of grab-and-go play, Bonnie's food cart serves up an excellent combo of cuteness, catchy music, and frantic, family-friendly, food-flinging fun.