I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I walked into my appointment for Little Dragons Cafe, but I’ll tell you this much. I walked out, convinced that I was going to pick this one up on launch day for sure.
Created by Yasuhiro Wada, the former director of the Harvest Moon series, Little Dragons Cafe is a charming little management game that has you taking care of a restaurant, while also raising a dragon and looking for new ingredients and recipes. According to an Aksys rep, Little Dragons Cafe has a slightly larger focus on story and exploration than previous games made by Wada. The game kicks off with you selecting a male or female character (the one you don’t pick will accompany you as a helper), and your mom teaches you the basics of gathering and cooking. A day later, she falls seriously ill, and you learn that the dragon blood in her body is the cause of this sickness. To rescue her, you must raise a baby dragon in the hopes of finding a cure. You also need to manage the restaurant, of course.
Right off the bat, the game’s aesthetics really grab your attention. The characters and environments look like they’ve been cut from cloth and fabric, and the animation, while simple, is fluid and matches the overall tone. The color palette is bright and vibrant, and the lighting effects when you’re outdoors are really quite lovely as well. It’s worth noting that the build I was playing was a debug version running on the Switch. As a result, the game wasn’t fully optimized just yet, with longer load times and some stuttering during gameplay. However, Aksys assured me that this won’t be the case in the final product.
Little Dragons Cafe puts you on a rather large island where you can look for ingredients. When you first hatch your dragon from an egg, it can look for new materials for you. As it grows older, it can start to remove obstacles and eventually fly around the island so you can access an even larger area to look for new stuff. Materials and ingredients are harvested from nodes, and can only be interacted with a few times a day. You’ll also find recipe fragments scattered around the island; once you find four fragments of the same recipe, you can start practicing cooking the dish at your restaurant.
Back at the restaurant, cooking is executed through a rhythm mini game where you have to time your button presses properly. Aksys informed me that doing poorly in the rhythm game won’t mess up your dish, but the food quality will improve if you do well and if you use higher grade ingredients. Once your dish is all cooked, you can serve it to a customer and they’ll give you a rating. Over time, you’ll also be able to start hiring workers to run the restaurant for you. However, you can’t simply leave the restaurant on autopilot while you hunt for ingredients, as your workers might slack off and you’ll need to go back and yell at them every now and again.
At the end of the day, I had a very pleasant time with Little Dragons Cafe. It features the strangely compelling routine gameplay from Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, while also sprinkling elements of exploration to add a new twist to the formula. The game seems perfect for the Switch, and it’s easily the most comfortable and relaxing game I had the pleasure of playing during this very busy E3 season.