For some time now, the Nintendo Switch has been sorely lacking in the life simulation game department. Of course, there’s Stardew Valley – easily one of the greatest titles to grace the console – but the obvious absence of instalments in the “relaxation” genre has left many fans feeling disenchanted.
Yasuhiro Wada, the original creator of Harvest Moon, appeared to have previously abandoned the farming simulation world in favour of sandbox-style games such as Happy Birthdays. Luckily, he’s thrown his hat back into the ring (or, at least close to it) with Little Dragons Café – an adorable new addition to the genre on Nintendo Switch.
In this game, you and your twin sibling are responsible for managing your mother’s café after she falls deathly ill – and, on top of this, caring for and raising a baby dragon bestowed upon you by a mysterious old man. This will involve cooking recipes, serving guests, and foraging for ingredients, among other tasks. The game is a unique blend of genres – including elements of management simulation, rhythm-based gameplay, and role-playing. Although farming is surprisingly absent from the game, a large focus is placed upon gathering ingredients and cooking recipes – something many Harvest Moon fans will remember and enjoy.
The art style is just as unique and charming as the gameplay, featuring storybook-like graphics that make you feel as if you’ve fallen into a hand-illustrated dream world. Fittingly, the game is even divided into chapters, like a novel. However, the actual performance can feel a bit nightmarish at times. Load times are a drag on the game’s pace, and can significantly interrupt and slow down the flow of the story. Each time your character steps into, or out of, the café (which is necessary at least every few minutes), you’ll wait anywhere from ten seconds to over a minute for loading.
Other issues occur when you begin venturing outdoors, and notice that frame rates can slow to a snail’s pace. Sometimes, this is also accompanied by haywire camera controls, spinning the screen in circles (expect some mild nausea). Frequent hitching can also occur while you explore the outside world – which isn’t ideal, considering the time mechanics in these types of games that require an increased pace of play.
Fortunately, you’ll find it difficult to stay frustrated for long with an adorable, colour-changing dragon at your side throughout the game (fair warning: the dragon is not house trained). Along with your new companion, there is a unique depth to the characters in the game’s storyline that can only be found in a title created by a master storyteller like Wada. The gameplay also gets better with time, as the story and pace pick up with each new chapter – and the world you’re able to explore expands along with it. New characters and details on their backstories will continue to be introduced throughout the game as well, something that fans of Harvest Moon games will be very familiar with. If these are things you value in a game, you won’t be disappointed.
Little Dragons Café is an endearing feast for the eyes – and extremely unique in its concept – but can lose some of its charm after too much time spent waiting on technical issues like load times. Hopefully, some of these problems can be fixed with a future patch or update. Still, Yasuhiro Wada is the master of turning a simple game into a living, breathing story – and you can expect to experience that same level of care and detail in his latest adventure. It feels as if he is inventing a brand new genre of game all over again – just as he did with Harvest Moon. For those who seek a laid-back experience on the Nintendo Switch, this game will lovingly fill the void, even if it's a little rough around the edges.