Venba Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Here’s a recipe for a good game: a meaty cross-cultural story, a dash of delicious food, and a dollop of fun, cosy gameplay. Those are the ingredients of Venba, and mixed together – and topped with a reference to Ratatouille – they form a wonderful narrative-led game that had us wanting seconds.

Visai Studios has dished up a title that takes you through the life of a woman named Venba, her husband Paavalan, and their son Kavin. It begins not long after Venba and Paavalan have moved from India to Canada, and charts their lives as they struggle to find work, adjust to a new country, and raise Kavin in a way that meets his desire to fit in with his friends while keeping his roots intact.

This may look like a cooking game but it’s more a story game with cooking mechanics. Comparisons will be made to Cooking Mama but they aren’t accurate. You won’t find such an emotional plot in Cooking Mama, and the gastronomy here is more puzzle-like than dextrous.

The core gameplay is looking through Venba’s mother’s cookbook and following the recipes. It’s an old book, though, and pages are sometimes torn or covered in smudges from years in the kitchen. You might have to fill in the blanks, or decipher a diagram, in order to cook the dish. The cooking method is moving a cursor to pick up and put down ingredients and utensils. It ranges from placing things in the right order, to repeating certain steps a few times, to managing temperature. Unfortunately, there’s no touchscreen capability, but the controls are sharp enough in Venba that it didn’t detract from our enjoyment.

The puzzles are fun to solve, and not difficult, with generous clues skilfully written in the characters’ voices. If you make a mistake, the game encourages you to try again, and there are no consequences for messing something up (unlike cooking outside the console). Outside the kitchen, you can also choose responses to conversations, but your decisions don’t seem to have any broader effect. Otherwise, it’s a fairly hands-off experience. That isn’t everyone’s taste, but with the engagement in the story, the gameplay doesn’t grow stale.

Venba Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Venba (whose name is a form of Tamil poetry, reflecting the game’s poetic structure) and her family’s story is told with chapters set years apart. The game uses rich storytelling cues such as calendars, photos, and even text messages to show the passage of time. Each marks events big and small with a meal that you cook, because food is what brings this family together. Venba announces she’s pregnant by adding a mini idli to Paavalan’s plate. As a child, Kavin demands pizza until his mother teaches him a Tamil dish with a rocket-shaped machine: puttu. And, when a grown-up Kavin says he’s coming home for the weekend, we experience Venba’s excitement preparing her son’s favourite dishes.

The sweet and at times heartbreaking storyline is layered, too, with commentary on overt and covert racism, and on cultural appropriation for commercial gain. It’s never wholly critical, though, and always offers food for thought on the intricacies of these issues. The text on screen is often in Tamil (sometimes with English, sometimes not), which enriches the world. It even becomes part of the puzzle later in the game.

Venba is presented with a colourful loose illustration style which lends itself to the sometimes rocky events and rustic nature of cooking. The roughened edges and pencil-like textures stood out for us, especially in the food illustrations and animations. Paired with these sound effects, the cooking scenes were so vivid we could almost smell the spices popping in oil, the chicken stock simmering. We were impressed at the ability to evoke senses that aren’t usually in games. Set to background music inspired by Tamil films, all the elements immerse you in Venba’s world.

Venba Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Many people see food as a connection to place, and Venba serves us heartwarming moments that cover the literal and metaphorical distance between Indian and Canadian cultures – or, broadly, East and West. For anyone who’s ever experienced such inner conflict (this writer included), those moments felt very real and lived-in. However, it’s still easily digestible, and informative, for anyone who hasn’t. Moreover, it’s decent fun no matter your background.

As for performance, there were reports of some technical issues in the game, but we didn’t experience any when we played. The frame rate may be lesser than other platforms but we found it still went down a treat on Switch.

With its engrossing storyline and uncomplicated puzzles, Venba is as relaxing and cosy as a homemade meal. The minimal gameplay isn’t for everyone, but fans of Unpacking or A Little to the Left will eat it up. This game taught us a lot about Southern Indian cuisine and made us want to learn more about it. Of course that by no means makes us experts, but we were glad to have come away from a game with a little more perspective, a rumbling belly, and a few tears. Our only major complaint is that it’s very short. Although we see a lot of the family in snippets, it might have been nice to get just a few more scenes in the middle, as Kavin matures. As it is, the two-hour runtime left us hungry for more (yes, that is a Ratatouille reference).


In Venba’s short play time, the narrative-led cooking game conveys so much of this family’s experience. The stirring story is presented in snackable chapters, each with an emotional tale tied to a dish. The puzzles aren’t too challenging, making for a comforting, cosy playthrough as you prepare each meal. Be warned though: this game will make you hungry. And it may also make you cry.