Venba is a delightful video game. What it accomplishes in a little over an hour is impressive, both in terms of introducing and authentically portraying a culture that most Western gamers will have limited familiarity with, and in presenting a moving story of love, loss, family, and the important role that food plays in tying all of those things together.
The story follows the trials and tribulations of the titular Venba — originally from Southern India — who moves to Canada with her husband to seek a better life. Told in vignette form, the tale spans decades and generations, each snippet of narrative framed around some form of traditional Indian cuisine that Venba cooks from a recipe book handed down to her from her mother.
When it gets to the cooking it’s a relatively simple affair. You’ll click on ingredients and move them to where they need to be, or maybe rotate an analogue stick here and there to mix a batter or sieve rice. The recipe book serves as a guide, but over time some words have faded or become obscured, and so there’s a little trial and error involved in cooking each meal. If guesswork isn’t your thing, there’s a hint system to point you in the right direction.
The music and sound effects shine during these segments. The soundtrack is killer — we’ve got it on while penning this review, actually — and the crackle of the oil as you sizzle is so well-realised that if you close your eyes with headphones on it’s like you’re actually in the kitchen. All of this helps tremendously to lend Venba a sense of authenticity, and it’s impossible not to feel the love that went into the creation of this game while you cook, even if you have no idea what a dosa is.
As the end credits appeared on our screen it felt like we’d been on a generational journey — one that was both happy and sad, disappointing and hopeful, and above all, sincerely moving. We had a tear in our eye and everything. Four days later, writing this review and thinking about our experience playing Venba, we’re smiling, and considering going back for a second helping.