The Wii revolutionised casual gaming back in 2006, as children and parents across the globe joyously engaged in bowling, golf, boxing, developing tennis elbow, and smashing their TV screens with an unfastened remote. It was quite a time. Casual games get a lot of stick from certain corners of the internet, but the Wii got away with it. The Internet-Elders approved because it had challenging releases too and, well – it was Nintendo for heaven’s sake.

Fast-forward to 2020, and you don’t see Snapchat games getting the same sort of praise. It’s understandable why: Snapchat isn’t the godfather of gaming like Nintendo; it’s an app famous for camera-filters and messages that disappear forever.

But perhaps it’s time to have a closer look at the potential of messenger games, especially in this messy and confusing time in which we’re physically cut off from loved ones. New means of long-distance connection are more necessary than ever before. Enter the so-called “chat games”. They’re increasing in popularity, but it’s understandable if you haven’t come across them – they’re not aimed at hardcore gamers, or even at gamers in general. The target audience is users of Snapchat.

Let’s have a look at Ready Chef Go, a Snapchat game from the relatively new studio Mojiworks. It’s a game in which the player has to prepare food, in a variety of restaurants, for customers against the clock and, importantly, against your opponent. It might not sound like escapist fun for employees at a fast food joint, but professional kitchen sims have been going since 1982’s Burger Time. And unlike slaving away in a professional kitchen, you can leave a game whenever you want (and your skin’s safe from the burning oil of a deep fat fryer).

Ready Chef Go uses your pre-existing Bitmoji (Snapchat’s take on the Mii) as the in-game avatar, who rushes around the kitchen preparing food for demanding customers – so there’s a sense of familiarity as you take control of your personalised Snapchat-self. Also, your companion’s Bitmoji is in the kitchen with you, scoring as many points as you can against your opponents. The gameplay loop is simple but addictive: see the customer’s order (indicated via image in a speech box), make the order, and serve the customer – repeat as fast as you can before the time runs out, and the round finishes.

Unlike a shift at McDonald’s, a round lasts 90 seconds. So it’s over pretty quickly, but that’s the whole point of it. Speaking to Edge magazine, Ready Chef Go’s Senior designer Kate Killick said that Snapchat is “where people hang out online, chatting, and then jump into a game together,” making it well-suited to quick matches. Once the game is over, there’s the option to go again, or go back to chatting.

And yet, there is a kind of progression involved. You obtain points as you play, and upgrades are available to give you an edge. For example, you can upgrade your grill so that the burgers cook more swiftly, but don’t burn so fast. Not quite within the realm of physics, but it’s a quirk that creates a kind of longevity, and a reason to return. More restaurants become available the more you play, with new foods to make that require different mechanics. Once you’ve mastered the milkshake bar, it doesn’t mean you’ll breeze through the burger joint – the game isn’t a one-trick-pony.

It’s fun, but it isn’t for everybody; seasoned gamers will be happy to catch up with friends on on Final Fantasy IV, Dota, Call of Duty and the like. It isn’t an alternative for the existing online gaming sphere. However, I’m urging gamers not to scoff at Snapchat games, or messenger games in general. I’m not sure how we came from Candy Crush to this, but evidently these kinds of games are growing more and more sophisticated.

Mojiworks should be proud of bringing a game this smooth and playable to a simple messenger app. They have a new game – Quiz Party – coming soon, which will hopefully be just as entertaining. Is Snapchat the future of “casual” gaming? I have no idea, but it’s connecting people in a novel way – people who aren’t your typical gamers. Just for that, it should be commended.

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