GDC 2018: Little Dragon’s Café Hands-On Impression

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Little Dragon's Café | Logo

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch; PlayStation 4
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: August 24, 2018
Aksys Games Website

During a luncheon hosted by Aksys at GDC 2018, I was given an opportunity to play through the opening tutorial section (and a little beyond) of Yasuhiro Wada’s latest creation: Little Dragon’s Café, in both handheld and TV mode for the Nintendo Switch. Before I dive into my experiences with the game, a little bit of background is in order. Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of Little Dragon’s Café, was the creator of the Harvest Moon series over at Marvelous Interactive. After a lengthy career there, he left in order to ultimately found his own company, Toy Box, Inc. A lot of recent games, including Stardew Valley, draw heavy inspiration from Wada’s original Harvest Moon games that date back twenty-plus years. As a result of this illustrious pedigree, I was excited to try out his latest creation.

Little Dragon's Café | Wada

Yasuhiro Wada demonstrates a dish that he just successfully cooked in Little Dragon’s Café during the GDC 2018 Aksys Luncheon. (Image taken by myself).

Little Dragon’s Café has a deceptively simple premise: You play as one of two twins: Rin and Ren, who live with their mother who runs a café. Soon after the game begins, the mother falls ill and is put on bed rest. Not long after this happens, a wizard (who quickly becomes a free-loader tenant living upstairs in the café) appears and gives you an egg that a small dragon hatches from. It is up to Rin, Ren and the dragon to keep the café running while simultaneously trying to find a way to save their mother from dying.

Little Dragon's Café | Characters

Rin, Ren, and the dragon that comprise the core game cast of Little Dragon’s Café. (Image courtesy of Aksys Games).

When it comes to running a café, there is a lot to do. You have to set the restaurant’s menu, ensure that you have enough ingredients on hand to make the menu dishes, take the order from a customer, register the order, cook the order, deliver the order, and then take the empty dish away after they finish eating. The mechanics are, thankfully, fairly simple for all of this, and this even includes the cooking. Instead of an extremely complex cooking method ala the Cooking Mama series, Wada decided to go with a fairly simple rhythm matching game in Little Dragon’s Café. Each cooking recipe minigame lasts between 5-10 seconds, and you have to hit the appropriate button on the controller as it horizontally crosses part of the screen. The better you time the button press, the better your dish will turn out.

Little Dragon's Café | Menu

Little Dragon's Café | Finished Dish

Set your menu up in Little Dragon’s Café, and then make it for hungry customers! (Images courtesy of Aksys Games).

When you leave the café through the front door, there is an open world to explore in Little Dragon’s Café. There are scattered recipe pieces to find (four of them make one full new recipe – with 100 recipes in total to collect), there are ingredients to find growing on plants to harvest with a button press, and there are even fish to reel up in a system that is a simplified version of the fishing in the Animal Crossing series. If you go to the side of the café while outside, you will find a garden that grows everything that you’ve previously harvested out in the field and you can harvest again and again as the days pass. There is also a day and night cycle in this game, but there wasn’t a stamina meter that forces your character to go to sleep after a certain amount of exertion (like in some Harvest Moon titles).

Little Dragon's Café | Outside

There is a big world outside of your café for you to explore. (Image courtesy of Aksys Games).

Little Dragon’s Café, during my time playing through the tutorial section (and free-exploring a bit), was designed to be light hearted and fun, with a light dining café sim included, and it succeeds at all of that. The controls handled well, and while I did struggle some with the cooking at first, it was more due to my own ineptitude than anything ‘unfair’ on the game’s part. The humor was actually pretty funny as well, and it is clear that there is some sophisticated humor wrapped into the characters and their interactions with both each other and Rin and Ren throughout the adventure.

Little Dragon's Café | Humor

Little Dragon's Café | Humor

There were a -lot- of humorous moments like this throughout my time with the hands-on demo. (Image courtesy of Aksys Games).

Oh, and did I mention that you have a dragon companion that goes with you everywhere that you can both name -and- pet on the head? In a neat little addition to the game, you can actually change the color of your dragon companion in Little Dragon’s Café by feeding it different dishes that you cook. It is the little things like that that made this demo stand out for me, and makes it something that I am personally excited to purchase when it comes out.

Little Dragon's Café | Dragon Color

Little Dragon's Café | Dragon Color

Your dragon friend, who you can name, has many different color options available. (Images courtesy of Aksys Games).

Little Dragon’s Café comes out on August 24th, 2018 on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, and there is both a regular edition (Nintendo Switch / PlayStation 4) and a limited edition (Nintendo Switch / PlayStation 4) available to pre-order.

If you had a dragon, what would you name him/her/they? Are you excited about picking up Little Dragon’s Café?

Let us know in the comments below!