Venba review

It has been said that Xbox Game Pass is the Netflix of gaming. That certainly rings true with Venba – also available on PC, PS4, and Switch – with this being a short narrative-driven affair with a runtime of a typical movie. It even resembles a contemporary animated Netflix film, featuring a bold and heavily stylised cartoony aesthetic.

Venba alternates between being an interactive story, presenting a choice of dialogue options, and an Indian cuisine cooking sim. Comparing the cooking sections to Cooking Mama doesn’t really do Venba justice, but the comparison isn’t far off the mark either. Think of it as more specialised, focusing on Indian dishes that are technically challenging to create. There’s a lot of methodical thinking involved, requiring ingredients to be added in certain orders or kept separated. One dish even has a slight puzzler slant, instructing you to make a layered dish that alternates ingredients.

It’s the story that drives the game forward. It’s set over a couple of decades and sees an Indian couple relocate to Canada in hope of better prospects. Soon, they start a family – but rather than take an interest in their parent’s heritage and learn the Tamil language, their son would rather speak in English and watch American films. The family also occasionally feels the pinch of a limited income, all the while wondering if the time is right to return home to southern India.

Venba Switch screenshot.

From the son’s birth through to his graduation, cooking remains the central theme. Homemade meals lighten the mood, remind the parents of their past, and strengthen the bond between mother and son. Then when the son finally shows an interest in cooking, they too are introduced to the Indian way of life. It touches on a lot of valid and powerful subjects, and without doubt, there are elements here relatable to anyone of Indian descent. I found it quite poignant when the son mentioned that they didn’t want to unpack their Indian lunches at school due to the pungent aromas causing embarrassment.

Cooking sections appear every fifteen minutes or so, ergo at key points during the story. A hand-me-down cookbook acts as a guide, complete with illustrations, but there’s a problem – the book has seen far better days, with the occasional torn page and smudged text. This means while following instructions, you’re also going to have to stop and think about what step comes next. This leads to some trial and error – and thankfully there’s a ‘redo’ button should things go awry. In fact, I think I only finished one dish once without a mistake. Ingredients need to be sieved, water added accordingly, layers introduced correctly, and dishes flipped before they burn. Everything feels remarkably intuitive, and there’s lo-fi Indian music to listen to while you cook.

Venba Switch screenshot.

A few other things stand out when cooking. Firstly, the dishes are nothing short of mouthwatering, and that’s despite the stylised visuals. It’s very easy to imagine how the handful of dishes presented must smell and taste. Secondly, it may be possible to replicate the dishes showcased here. You may need to look online for cooking times, but there’s still reason to believe that cooking sections provide more than just the gist. I’d also say that Venba successfully showcases just how technical Indian cooking is. There’s a lot of molecular gastronomy on display, such as using tomatoes to make a dish waterier without adding more water.

For some, Venba might be quite the eye-opener. This is a game with a story to tell, told in a unique and moving way. To say it’s inspired by Indian culture would be folly – it is a slice of Indian culture, condensed into video game form and presented in way more than palatable.

Published and developed by Visai Games, Venba is out now on all major formats.