Y’all know my opinions on Stardew Valley. So when my friends suggest a cute game and compare it to Stardew Valley, I am there for it. And who doesn’t want to live out the Lemon Cake dream of running a cute little bakery, making pastries, talking to ghosts, and petting cats? Oh yeah, forgot to mention: the bakery is kinda haunted.
Lemon Cake was made by Éloïse Laroche (@EloiseGameDev) and released on Steam and Itch.io on February 18, 2021. With only a couple quality of life and content updates released since launch, this cozy baking sim combines both farming and time management elements to make a sweet story about reviving a haunted bakery and putting the ghost to rest by training as an apprentice baker. Ultimately, your goal is to make enough money and accrue enough experience to upgrade the downtrodden bakery and make Miss Bonbon’s famous (and titular) Lemon Cake recipe. But what do you actually do?
Each in-game day features a couple of timed and untimed sections. First is the morning prep, before you open the bakery for the day. Here, the in-game clock is paused and you can spend as much time as you need cleaning up any messes in the bakery, watering plants, petting cats, cleaning chickens, and completing any other chores which are easiest before a crowd shows up. You can also prep and bake some early pastries, but with limited counter space, you can only make so many without knowing what exactly people will order in one day. With that, it’s time to open shop, and the clock begins.
Here’s the time crunch, or the section of the game that drove my anxiety up a wall. The clock starts as soon as you open the bakery, when customers file in and order pastries and cooked treats. Much like Diner Dash and other customer-service-style games, customers have a patience meter which affects their happiness and the amount they’ll tip you when they pay. Wait long enough or severely mess up their order and out they go, presumably writing a scathing review on Lemon Cake Yelp and taking their money with them.
No big deal, right? Well, you have more to keep your eyes on than just the pastries, as you’re initially the only staff member in the establishment. So, in addition to baking and ordering, cleaning tables is a must, as customers will just quietly leave if there is no clear table for them to sit at. Oh, and did I mention that everything is grown in the greenhouse out back as well? You better keep those plants watered if you want strawberries and blueberries for your bread throughout the day.
Eggs and milk are courtesy of the cow and chickens in the greenhouse as well, and they aren’t ‘set and forget’ type creatures; they also want pets, care, and cleaning throughout the day. Now, do all these things all at once, across three screens, for an incredibly frantic 4-5 minutes. Seriously, after playing for a while my shoulders and hands hurt from holding so much tension in them while trying to run around and do everything at once.
And yet… It’s really fun? Things always feel moments away from failure, so the victory is that much sweeter. Doing more tasks earns you more rewards, whether it’s experience for new recipes or cash for more complex recipes, and their associated exotic ingredients steadily add to your roster. Cash upgrades also improve your kitchen as a whole, letting you fix up broken ovens and add sprinklers to water your plants.
It’s a cute, sweet game, though I can’t relax with it as much I might with other casual games. But when you need a little thrill, a little fear, and a little competition, Lemon Cake is like an ice cold drink on a hot day. Just make sure to take a step back every once in a while, or you’ll get burnt!