“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – Julia Child
Cooking Companions is a cute psychological horror visual novel that centres around a group of friends as they stay in a cabin deep in the woods of the Tatras Mountains.
Developer: Deer Dream Studios
Released: 7th October 2021
Available on: Steam
Note: This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.
The game begins with a group of friends arriving at the cabin in the woods. Karin, Mariah, Anatoly and Gregor instruct the player’s character to cook them some food while they go out foraging. Everything is lovely and there is nothing to worry about, there is even a group of sentient fruit and vegetables (The Chompettes) living in the kitchen. However, after a couple of days heavy rain starts up and the area begins to flood, trapping everyone inside. Rations run low and tensions rise, and then there are the nightmares to contend with. As the days go by the hunger starts to get to everyone more and more, it is here that things start to turn sinister!
The narrative is surprising, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the player intrigued. The writing itself is the highlight of the game with the excellent characterisation of the four friends, each with very distinct personalities, and the fantastic visceral detail included in some of the game’s darker moments.
Cooking Companions plays, for the most part, like most visual novels. The player clicks to progress the story and makes sporadic dialogue and action choices. Specifically, players can explore a different part of the cabin each day, they get one choice and then the day is over. In addition to this, there will be choices about which of the four NPCs to talk to, this will usually improve your relationship with the character, and the relationship will be maxed out once five hearts are filled. Maxxing out relationships with different characters can unlock different dialogue and scenarios. Once the player has completed the main game there is also extra content in the form of Chompette Origins, nightmare mode and new game plus, all of which introduce something new to the game and enhance the overall experience.
Cooking Companions lulls the player into a false sense of security with its cutesy aesthetic. The adorable-looking Chompettes and anime characters sitting nicely on more painterly backgrounds set a casual and jolly mood at the beginning of the game. Yet as the narrative and tone shift there is some brilliantly horrific artwork to behold, creepy imagery that will surely send a shiver down anyone’s spine!
The music reflects the visuals in that things start very upbeat to belie the true nature of the game. Tracks range from energetic and lively, to melancholy piano to imposing and eerily pulsating droning, all setting the scene and creating a distinct sense of atmosphere. The spookier tracks in particular really helped immerse the player in the story and in the horror of the situations being presented. Well-implemented sound effects, such as rain, scratching or whispering were often very creepy and helped greatly with the overall sense of immersion.
Cooking Companions is a fantastic example of a visual novel with a high level of interactivity and a truly disturbing narrative. The art and music are superb and do a great job of bringing the story and all its grisly detail to life and the wonderful characterisation really connects the player to the different personalities. It will take around 3 hours to complete the base game with another 1.5-2 hours for the extra content, providing a good amount of playtime overall. I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game and highly recommend it to fans of psychological horrors and visual novel lovers!
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