[Review] Chocolatier: Sweet Society

This article was originally published for Site of the Gaming Dead, a now-defunct video game blog, on July 29, 2010. I have done my best to recreate the article here, complete with images.

I remember reading a letter to the editor in a recent issue of Game Informer that complained about an article featuring FarmVille, one of the most wildly-successful casual gaming apps to hit the Internet. Rather than buy standalone games for their consoles or computers, people are now turning to the Internet for brief spurts of entertainment in the form of Facebook games. Like it or not, casual games like FarmVille are increasingly popular and look like they’re here to stay. And of course, they still merit all the poking and prodding of any other game we might deign to cover here at Gaming Dead. When you feel like wasting time without burying yourself into strategies and replays, casual games certainly have their advantages.

In the case of Diner Dash maker PlayFirst’s first entry into the social gaming arena, Chocolatier: Sweet Society is definitely a tasty appetizer, whether you are a “hardcore” casual gamer or a true on-again, off-again player looking to sample some of PlayFirst’s delicious wares.

Chocolatier: Sweet Society is an excellent, original game even in beta, allowing even those people without friends to play with activities to do and goals to strive for.

The game, part of PlayFirst’s Chocolatier franchise, is unique in that it’s set during 1882. Everything from the start-up screen onward has this charming, antique feel to it, and you can decorate your shop in a variety of styles reflecting of the eras leading up to the game’s setting: “Classic,” Victorian, Empire, or Federalist.

But it wouldn’t be called Chocolatier if all you did was decorate the place; the goal of the game is to learn an increasing amount of delectable-looking and sounding recipes, ranging from your Basic Chocolate Bars to exotic Mango Clove Infusions. You have to spend money on the recipes and the machines to make them, along with displays on which to, well, display them. As you sell more and more chocolates, you’ll level up and access more recipes, which allow you to earn more money per sale.

Customers in the form of cute caricatures that seem to have mini-seizures when they find their favorite chocolate, walk in with a bubble over their head indicating what they’re after. You can also click on them to read their first and second preference, whether it’s a chocolate square, bar, praline, infusion, or truffle. If a customer gets their first choice, the bubble will display a heart and they’ll flip out and give you a bonus over the cost of the chocolate. Their second choice will result in a green happy face and a small bonus, but if you don’t have their preferred chocolate on hand after they inspect two cases, they’ll have a sad red face and walk out the door, deducting 0.5 points from your “Prestige Rating.”

Prestige is this mysterious rating that has to do with your store’s size and decor, along with your customer’s happiness. They’ll be happier with a huge variety of chocolates to choose from, and a higher prestige means more customers per minute will come in, thereby increasing your chances of making more money. Those familiar with Playfish’s Restaurant City will recognize this; it’s similar to the Popularity Rating in that game. A higher score is supposedly something to toot your horn over, but unless you’re careful with checking whether your shop is open or closed, you might see it soar one day and plummet the next, causing your customers to dwindle to a scant few per minute.

Outside the shop though, the chocolates still have to be made, and that’s where the factory comes in. Though the game is still in beta and lacking avatars or an overarching story, the general idea is that you’re helping out the famous Baumeister family with their confections company by running a shop and factory for them. You’re responsible for everything, from buying the machines to choosing the recipes to use.

There is strategy involved: you do have to pick which recipes to make and when. Recipes get increasingly expensive and take longer to make, so with the exception of the very simplest chocolate bars, you can’t really select a recipe, set up your first machine, make it, and sell it within a few minutes. You can, however, earn enough coin with your first several batches to buy another machine, more display cases, and so on, until you have a veritable chocolate empire.

You can also “optimize” your factory by participating in a once-every-eight-hours mini-game with three difficulty levels that involve shooting a pair of ingredients into a special machine. Once you get a correct pair in a disk, the machine “eats” the combined ingredients and makes them into a chocolate, and the more you make, the higher the increase in your production. In other words, your machines will start pumping out more chocolate than usual! However, you only have one minute in which to do this, a maximum of eight “misses” and to make matter worse, the fewer misses you have, the faster the machine goes!

As a social game, you can also visit your friends’ shops and “sample” their chocolates after helping them out. Both of these offer the opportunity to spam your friends’ Wall and thereby get more attention for the game. It’s also beneficial to you, because you get a small portion of chocolates from their stash that you can then sell, although it’s smaller than what you would have gotten had you made a batch of your own. You can only collect one sample per shop per day, however.

You can “send gifts” to your fellow chocolatiers, but doing so unfortunately “exits” the game, creating a jarring experience visually by taking you into another pane. However, there’s no need to click a “save” button to record your progress or earnings; everything is done automatically, so if you’re feeling generous, you can share sweets with your neighbors at any time. This tiny factor sets the game apart from many of its competitors; Flash can often cause bugs and errors that toss you out of your gameplay experience but without the need to save, there’s less likelihood of you losing any extensive earnings, ingenious decorating schemes, or fabulous mini-game scores.

“The chocolate theme of Chocolatier: Sweet Society should resonate well with consumers,” says Mike Vorhaus, President of Magid Advisors, the company that PlayFirst recently partnered with to sponsor a survey on social media and consumers in 2010. “Seven in 10 social gamers responded in our survey that the ‘theme’ of a game is a deciding factor when choosing a game and since chocolate is far and away America’s favorite flavor, this bodes well for Chocolatier: Sweet Society as it lets players enjoy all the chocolate they want with no calories.”

For a beta and a first foray into the Facebook social gaming arena, Chocolatier has certainly whetted this Sweet’s sweet taste buds. It involves more thinking and clicks than other casual games, but not so many that going into the game is a bore. With fun mini-games, new recipes to discover, new ways to decorate, and bizarrely cute titles for whenever you gain enough XP to level up, Chocolatier is off to a great start, and can only improve as it integrates elements familiar to other social gamers or those fans familiar with the Chocolatier franchise.

Survivor: 4/5