Startenders launched last week for Quest and PSVR, offering players the chance to get mixing as an intergalactic bartender. We went hands-on to find out if it goes down smooth.
After playing through a few of the opening levels of Startenders this week, the good news is that the gameplay is pretty much exactly what you’d expect — if you’ve seen the trailer, you know what you’re in for.
You’ll find yourself in an intergalactic bar, playing through a campaign that sees you prepare increasingly complicated cocktail orders for aliens as fast as possible, in a similar vein to cooking games like Overcooked or Resolution’s Cook-Out.
In fact, it shares a lot with the latter title in the way you build the cocktails, albeit with a bit more complication — some orders are very simple, whereas others require multiple steps and switching between machines on the fly. Whereas Cook-Out was designed for multiplayer, Startenders is a single-player experience. The number of items and tools you have to juggle is therefore increased, which compensates well for the lack of chaos and difficulty that comes with Cook-Out’s multiple-chefs-in-the-kitchen approach.
The core gameplay loop of each level is somewhat familiar then, and so Startenders offers a few of its own twists to try keep things fresh. Better performance will earn you more tips, which you can use to unlock more ingredients, tool upgrades and new machines for your bar. These can be bought and built in a central hub you’ll return to after each level which, admittedly, feels a little uninteresting and soulless.
Visually Startenders isn’t pushing many boundaries — yes, it is a Quest title (and is available on PSVR as well), so it has inherent limitations. However, the bar for visuals on Quest hardware is being raised month-by-month — while Virtual Virtual Reality 2 had its fair share of problems, it was a refreshing reminder of just how far developers can push scale and aesthetic of Quest visuals, with beautiful results.
With that in mind, Startenders comes off as a little visually uninteresting — it’s not bland, but it feels remarkably average in visual style and design. A few years ago, this might have been less remarkable but in 2022? The aesthetics feel a little below par.
So too do some interactions and general VR mechanics — objects feel remarkably light and without weight, and sometimes won’t react as expected when you’re picking them up or moving them around. It all feels just a little behind the current standard.
That being said, it’s easy to focus on the negatives — despite the nitpicks, what we’ve played of Startenders so far shows it to be a solid Cook-Out-style kitchen (or in this case, bar) game. I’ve only played through four or so campaign levels, but the gameplay formula felt familiar while also offering a bit more complexity, with unique elements ensuring I was kept on my toes.
Will the ingredient shop and machine-building elements of the hub area be compelling enough mechanics to really set the game apart and give it staying power? I haven’t played enough to say, but I’d hope that the latter sections of the campaign ramp up the difficultly and chaos using a wider selection of options you’ll unlock.
From what I’ve seen though, Startenders is a solid, if slightly familiar, addition to the cooking genre on VR. If you’re a fan of Overcooked or Cook-Out and want something similar, this is definitely one to check out.
Startenders is available now for Meta Quest and PSVR.