Venba is a delightful puzzle cooking game about family

Venba lead

Venba explores home and heritage through the pages of a cookbook

The pitch for Venba is solid. Cooking games are a great time, and that alone would’ve at least piqued my interest. But where Visai Games’ Venba secured my attention wasn’t just the cooking itself, but what the cooking represented: history, family, home, and a connection to your roots, even in the unfamiliar.

I got to play a short demo as part of the Tribeca Games selection this year. It was just one chapter, a short cooking session bookended by narrative sections that set up the recipe creation. Venba follows Venba herself, who’s immigrated from India to Canada along with her husband.

The pair is nervous, wondering if the move was the right choice. Venba is tired and a bit frazzled, but when her husband suggests he’ll simply live off the coffee machine for lunch, she insists on getting up and cooking him a quick to-go meal. It’s a very relatable moment.

Venba started me off with idli, and this is where I will fully admit that I’m not very familiar with the Tamil cuisine showcased here. In some ways, this made me a perfect test subject for the puzzles in Venba; when it put a stove, racks, a batter, and other cooking accoutrement in front of me, it took me a moment just to gather my bearings. I like to cook, but I’ve never tried anything like idli.

The key is to use Venba’s recipe cookbook to figure everything out. It starts off with a simple recipe from her mother, which Venba says always turn out a little better than hers. The puzzle is to solve how, using her instructions.

Feel free to cue up a mental montage of me flailing about, concocting some harebrained attempts until I finally locked in the answer. (No spoilers, but it involves steam.) It was a fun, enjoyable puzzle that I enjoyed solving. But I was also taken in by what the puzzle represented.

Food for thought

There’s a particular feeling of trying to figure out just how someone, a parent or loved one, cooks food in that oh-so-particular way. Maybe it’s the way your dad grilled burgers. It might be your mom’s spaghetti. Possibly even a particularly delicious cupcake from a friend.

Piecing it all together is a process, as you try to figure out the right ingredients and steps to perfection. And for Venba and myself, the answer was simple. But it resulted in a little taste of home, amid all the chaos of life.

That’s the other thing that a good cooking game, and especially Venba, nails: that tactile feeling of cooking. It’s a crucial part of why cooking can carry so much emotion.

Making something with your hands gives you a richer connection to it. And when, like Venba, you’re feeling lost and homesick, it provides a tangible connection to that part of you. It’s something I feel when I’m having a rough day and cook up some stroganoff, or chocolate-chip cookies like my mom made. (Mine are still not as good as hers.)

Then you share it with someone else, and get to spread that feeling. It’s wonderful. And in a short, single-chapter demo, Venba captured that feeling incredibly well.

I’ve come up with a new recipe

In the full game, it seems like Venba will have to contend with more than just my own personal lack of knowledge. Her recipe book has been damaged, and so it seems like part of the gameplay and cooking segments will revolve around piecing together the right order-of-operations for making each dish.

That extra layer feels like a fantastic way to carry these ideas from the demo forward. Even when the past seems hazy, re-establishing your roots and restoring a slice of home, while sharing it with family, seems like a beautiful concept for a game. And I’ll get to learn some delicious-looking new recipes along the way, too.

Venba doesn’t have a release date locked in quite yet, but you can wishlist it on Steam here.

Eric Van Allen
Senior News Reporter