I’ve spent PLENTY of time drinking at bars and being left amazed at just how quickly bartenders can whip up all sorts of concoctions of drinks with finesse and style. If you left it to me? Drinks would be spilled, glasses would be everywhere, and there’d be plenty of unhappy customers. Luckily, I don’t have to do it in real-life, but I wasn’t afraid to try it in virtual reality. That’s where Startenders, the new release from the team at Foggy Box Games comes in, with it offering a high-pressure bartending experience with an extra dose of personality given that it takes place in an alien-filled spaceship.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Startenders puts players in the role of an unlucky human who finds themselves beamed onboard an alien spaceship and tasked with the role of working as a bartender by mistake. Who would have thought one little typo could cause so many problems? Of course, whilst you’re not MEANT to be there, you’ve got little choice but to work your shifts and try to make some cash – especially if you want to buy the parts required to construct a teleporter to try and get you home.
It’s a silly but fun concept, with Startenders never taking itself too seriously but offering enough supporting characters and comical interactions to ensure that the plot is engaging. I’ve seen plenty of similar games skimp on storytelling, but the fact that there’s a set goal in place to work towards actually made progression through the game more entertaining.
When it comes to the barte- I mean, STARTENDING, players are left to work behind a bar, with an ever-growing bunch of wacky aliens approaching with their drink orders. It’s up to you to whip each drink together, with the ingredients and process required to prep each one displayed above the customer on a small TV screen. This means that you never have to really take the time to fully learn a drink combination, though the fact that some drinks require quite an elaborate process to prepare means that players will still be kept on their toes.
“Much like titles such as Overcooked, the real thrills of Startenders comes with being put under stress and having to micro-manage your actions as quickly as possible.”
Things are pretty straightforward early on, with simpler drink requests and a more limited range of ingredients and tools making the whole process feel like a bit of a breeze. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a pressure in place to prep drinks quickly in order to earn the most points and there can be a dependence on multi-tasking when prepping multiple drinks at once, but it never felt too stressful. It doesn’t take long for the difficulty to ramp up though, with even more recipes, machines, and complex drink orders coming into play as you progress through the game.
Believe me, I got into a mess on a few occasions as I juggled picking and cleaning glasses, pouring the appropriate balance of ingredients in, making sure it was the right temperature, and prepping fruit at the same time, with Startenders’ manic gameplay loop sure to put players into a spin. There are bonus points if you’re extra stylish whilst putting drinks together too, so it’s worthwhile putting a bit of pizazz into your drink-mixing performance (which is something that feels especially enjoyable given the motion controls). Be warned though: it’s possible to hit drinks over and have to start the whole process all over again, which can be a little bit tedious when you’re ALREADY under pressure to get a drink ready as fast as possible.
You know what, though? It makes the whole game all the more enjoyable. Much like titles such as Overcooked, the real thrills of Startenders comes with being put under stress and having to micro-manage your actions as quickly as possible. I loved it when everything come together nicely and I managed to put together the perfect drink quickly, but I found it equally amusing when I messed something up by hitting over a drink, getting an ingredient wrong, or simply prepping a drink in the wrong glass. Sure, I wanted to do as well as I could in the game, but the silly mistakes I made along the way were all part of the fun.
“Players even get to explore their own private quarters, practice their drink-mixing in little mini-games, put together their own drink concoctions (which can then be ordered in-game), and manually construct the machines they use (which is a surprisingly soothing task), which all add to the charm of the game.”
Everything comes together to make for an enjoyable experience, with the blend of the quirky concept, fun drink-mixing gameplay, and sense of progression as you upgrade your machines or unlock new ones ensuring that Startenders remains engaging throughout its runtime. It probably won’t take players more than four hours to see all it has to offer, but it never runs out of ideas in that time – players even get to explore their own private quarters, practice their drink-mixing in little mini-games, put together their own drink concoctions (which can then be ordered in-game), and manually construct the machines they use (which is a surprisingly soothing task), which all add to the charm of the game.
The only real downside is that it lacked that special *something* to keep players coming back for more. Whilst we’ve seen similar virtual reality titles like Clash of Chefs VR offer competitive action and Cook-Out focus on co-operative play, Startenders could feel a little ordinary with its single-player focused campaign. There are special Daily Shifts you can complete that let you compete with others via an in-game leaderboard, but it didn’t really offer enough to keep me coming back for more once I cleared the main game.
Still, even if it does lack competitive play, there’s still plenty to enjoy in Startenders. It really looks the part too, with the vibrant cartoon-like visuals and cosmic drink presentation making for a really attractive experience, whilst the sound design is on point with its assortment of wacky sci-fi noises (even if it’s a little weird when customers don’t actually say the name of the drink they want to order). The virtual reality elements aren’t particularly intense either, so it’s comfortable to play even if you’re a newbie to the hardware.
Startenders is a unique and fun virtual reality drink-mixing escapade that’ll keep players entertained as they serve their alien customers. Sure, it might lack competitive aspects to keep players coming back for more, but the comical single player offerings and the super satisfying drink-mixing antics ensure a big smile will be kept on player’s faces as they look to make their way back to Earth – all whilst proving they’re the best Startender around, of course.
Developer: Foggy Box Games
Publisher: Yogscast Games
Platform(s): Quest 2 (Reviewed), PlayStation VR, PC VR