Developer: ZOO Corporation
Publisher: EastAsia Soft
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Also Available On: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Baumkuchen. The ring cake of Germany. Equal parts a simple dessert and expressive centerpiece, this lovely sweet has somehow become a staple of Japanese cafes and bakeries across the country, to the point where it’s found in almost every convenience store and snack stand. It’s great enough that Zoo Corporation, who are best known for making Mahjong games with busty anime girls, said “We need to make a game about these cakes.” So they forewent the temptation to make a game about sexy pastries (at least, for now) and dived into the world of retro pixel art and classic arcade stylings. This is the genesis of Cake Invaders.
For Cake Invaders to work, you have to be ready to work in the range of seriously oldschool approaches. Think Missile Command, Asteroids and, as you can guess, Space Invaders. The entire concept is that you’re a little pink astronaut on a planet that’s got these wonderfully huge baumkuchen all over the place, and aliens of all walks of life are invading in order to eat them and leave you without any cakes. The obvious solution is to shoot them in the face until they go away, but then more aliens will come. As the menace grows, other astronauts will suddenly realize they want to help as well and join in the fight, and they might even find some variety of weaponry to help fend off the invaders. Continue until you get overwhelmed: I don’t know if there’s an ending to this game, but I simply didn’t have the stamina to keep up with Cake Invaders for that long.
Presentation wise, Cake Invaders is spot on with what it’s trying to emulate, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing. The soundtrack is alright, very poppy but also incredibly repetitive. It just has the same tone to it over and over, and it’s not really something that I look for in games anymore: I want some variety, some interesting changes to help keep me aurally engaged. The pixel art is alright, but it looks much better in handheld than up on the big screen. Zoo decided that chunky pixels were the way to go, and the whole aesthetic works much better when you can keep things tight and together to help give a better retro illusion while still delivering something that’s modern and technically proficient. When splayed across a big screen, you feel like everything just seems wider and clunkier than it needs to be, especially since the game is anything but clunky. The disassociation between how the game looks and how it performs can really throw you off your groove.
Once you see how Cake Invaders performs, you don’t need to learn anything else. You hold down one button to start shooting, and you don’t let go until all the enemies are dead. After a certain number is defeated, a colorful baumkuchen will appear, and successfully shooting it down adds a certain skill to your situation. Maybe it’ll be a limited shot super gun, maybe it’ll be an increased amount of fire, but hopefully it’ll be the addition of another gunner. Adding a second, third and even fourth shooter means filling the sky with bullets and all but ensuring victory even in the face of larger and sturdier mobs to shoot down. There’s also the occasional random skill that’ll fly across the sky, and shooting that will assuredly give you something you want. The rule of thumb is just to keep shooting. There won’t be anything that you shouldn’t shoot that you can’t shoot, if that makes sense.
I think Zoo Corporation missed a bit of an opportunity by making Cake Invaders both retro and modern in terms of handling. My biggest complaint is that the firing isn’t on a fixed axis: you can point the crosshairs almost anywhere, jumping from one spot to another in the blink of an eye. While this sounds good, it translates into the game occasionally having the crosshairs drift outside of a generalized arc, and, as a purely white crosshairs in an exploding sea of pixels of all colors, you can easily lose sight of where you are aiming. This is only further exacerbated by the fact that the game lends itself to the idea of being able to do a bullet sweep, as your character themselves doesn’t work. This should be something like the classics where a curtain of bullets bursts forth from your solitary position, but, instead, you end up with a sort of jumpy, crooked line of shots that can and will miss the fast moving enemies.
Also, there’s nothing new under the sun after the first ten minutes of the game. The waves get bigger and the number of bullets in the air goes up, but Cake Invaders keeps true to its name and the homage it paints of the classics. For people looking for a single player arcade shooter that just keeps piling it on while your score goes up, that’s fantastic. For anyone looking for a deeper gaming experience than “keep shooting, change guns, keep shooting,” you’re in for a world of disappointment. I look at Cake Invaders and I believe it would be a wonderful little mobile game, something to grab for a buck or two and do a quick play when you’re waiting for the bus or something like that. The price on the different platforms reflects this as well, so I can’t fault the devs and publishers for that. Yet I’m just wanting more. Something more. Literally, anything more.
If you’re feeling the art style and love gameplay for gameplay’s sake, then you’re going to have a blast with Cake Invaders. It’s cute, simple and can be played for minutes or hours. If you want your gaming to mean something, then I’m deeply sorry, but there’s nothing more than a sweet premise and a decent execution. Still, if it gets you to go grab a baumkuchen from your local German bakery, then I’d still chalk it up as a win.
Cake Invaders scratches the arcade shooting itch, but doesn't do enough to keep complex players invested.