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Venba | Game Review | Food and Feels

Venba: An indie visual novel/cooking game about an immigrant family's struggles with inequality, finances, and family dynamics. Emotionally impactful, 2-hour gameplay.


Mike Alexander

August 07, 2023

Venba | Game Review | Food and Feels Venba | Game Review | Food and Feels

Check out this review in video form!


As I’m writing this, the date is August 4th, 2023. With just four months left in this year, there’s no doubt that this has been one for the record books. A contender for one of the best years in gaming by a long shot.

Final Fantasy XVI, Remnant 2, and Tears of the Kingdom are still bouncing around in my head, I’m installing Baldur’s Gate 3 right now, and Spider-Man 2 is just over the horizon. But, as excited as I am for all of those games, I have a hard time believing they will come close to affecting me as much as a small indie visual novel/cooking game has. This is a review of Venba, a game that crushed my heart with one hand, and gently held my own with the other.

Cooking Up Big Things

Venba Idlis

Venba was developed and published by Visai Studios, a small Toronto-based indie outfit who, according to their website, are “focused on telling intimate stories through interesting mechanics”. Considering what they have unleashed onto the world with their first game, I’m inclined to believe that mission statement.

The studio’s attention to detail, delicate writing, and impactful art have me eagerly awaiting whatever they come out with next.

A Family Story

Venba Family

I was sold on Venba’s concept long before I was able to get my hands on it. Seeing the debut trailer back in 2020 lit my soul on fire, and watching its presentation at the Wholesome Games Showcase a few months ago only secured its place on my list of things to play.

At its core, Venba is a story about a family. Taking place from the late 80s to the late 2010s, it is a chronicle of two Tamil immigrants trying to make their way in Canada, and how they roll with the punches as life happens.

It throws the entire range of emotions at you if you’re open to it. And, while it is very much a story that will only hit home for a select group of people, the overarching emotions and plot points are accessible to everyone. Dealing with inequality, trying to make ends meet, having fears that you’re failing your child, and having that child grow up to resent you for your choices are all powerfully conveyed.

Lucky for me, I’m in the small group that benefits from the bonus feels by having a specific background.

I’m not explicitly Tamil as the characters are in the game, but part of my family is from India, so Indian culture has played a significant role in my life. And, as most people will tell you (especially the creators of Venba), that culture can be literally boiled down to the food that seems to nourish your body and your soul simultaneously.

I’ve watched my Rajasthani grandmother make biryani. I’ve experienced firsthand the labor of love which is an arduous, multi-step process that almost seems like it’s not worth it. Until you taste the finished product, and everything seems right with the world for just a little while. Unfortunately, I’ve also experienced the embarrassment or shame that comes with using a school’s only microwave to heat up your curry for lunch and being known as the “smelly kid” for it.

Venba Biryani

Venba shares both sides of that beautiful, painful coin through multiple generations, which is something I haven’t seen in any other medium at this point in my life. Venba connected with me, and I connected with it in a way that is truly special. It also made me just want to hold my Mema and cry, but let’s not dwell on that.

Seeing the hours-long process of making biryani boiled down to a few presses of the A button made me chuckle, but Venba manages to do a lot with a little bit of gameplay.

Don’t Play with Your Food

Venba Cooking Biryani

Speaking on the topic of Venba’s gameplay, there isn’t very much to go around. I would describe it as a light puzzle game with more of a focus on story delivery through visual novel-like scenes. The cooking puzzles aren’t terribly taxing once you understand how the game works, but I enjoyed what was there.

I played the game on an Xbox Series X, so navigating the puzzles with an analog stick wasn’t wholly ideal, but it got the job done. Like most point-and-click affairs, it's definitely better experienced on a touch screen or with a keyboard and mouse. Thankfully Venba is also available on Nintendo Switch and PC, which seem to be the ideal places to play it.

There are no timers or any other stress-inducing measures added to the gameplay, and failing a recipe really just amounts to “oops, try again!”, so Venba definitely errs on the cozy game side of things, which is something I appreciated. Every part of Venba, including its handful of cooking puzzles, is there to service and expand the story being told, and it does that flawlessly.

On top of that, the game’s art style is wonderfully suited to conveying the beauty in Indian cooking. The bright colors, the sound of spattering oil as spices are tempered, it all comes together so well that I could almost smell the food through my screen.

For the Love of God, Call Your Mother

Venba Mother

I don’t have much else to say about Venba. It’s an incredible, intimate story told through gameplay that doesn’t hold your feet to the fire, and sometimes that’s all I want. The “one dollar, one-hour” crowd that has been resurfacing lately won’t be happy to hear that the game can be completed in under two hours, but they aren’t bothering to take into account the loving craftsmanship that went into the game in the first place.

Venba is absolutely worth your time, and at just $15, it isn’t interested in draining your wallet either. I worry that this will get lost in the wave of massive releases that is set to finish out this insane year, because Venba is truly something special that deserves some time in the spotlight.

For all of the kids who grew up too embarrassed to eat the amazing food their family made them because it was too “smelly” for their classmates, this one’s for you.

Final Score: 9/10

Venba Food

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