Little Dragons Café Review
Designing media whose consumption is intended for children can be a tricky thing. Unlike their older counterparts, young audiences face a more drastic difference in the depth and complexity that can be understood and appreciated from member to member. A five-year-old may be thoroughly enthralled by something that would totally bore a seven-year-old simply because of the rapid rate of development in children. This issue was something of a point of anxiety for me as I began Little Dragons Café on my Switch. The game’s playful art style and premise weren’t points that would normally sell me on a game, and I was concerned that the game would talk down to me as a non-member of its target audience. To my pleasant surprise, I found no such condescension. In fact, I actually had some lighthearted fun with Little Dragons Café as it showed me that it held well-executed appeal for more than just young children.
Yang and Yin
The game focuses on Ren and Rin, the twin son and daughter of a woman who owns a charming little café by the sea. One day, the children’s mother doesn’t wake up in the morning, and they meet Pappy, an old man who tells the children how they can help wake up their mother. As it turns out, half of their mother’s blood is dragon blood, and that dragon half doesn’t get along too well with the human half. To fix this, Pappy tells the children that they have to raise a dragon from birt—err—hatching to adulthood by feeding it well and giving it lots of love. All the while, the children also have to continue running their mother’s café. Along the way, the children meet a number of lovable characters who help them run the café, that is, so long as the children keep them in check. While the other characters take on the brunt of the work in the café itself, it is up to one of the children (whichever one was chosen at the beginning) to venture out into the sea-side wilderness and gather ingredients and collect recipes to maintain and improve the café. Very soon into the game, you find yourself with a cathartic list of chores to complete including gathering eggs from the ‘egg birds,’ collecting fruits and vegetables from the various bushes and trees around the café, going fishing, and more while spending time with your adorable little dragon. I named mine Jim. It’s short for Jimothy.
Jimothy didn’t stay little for overlong, though. No, the dragons quickly grow, gaining abilities along the way that expand the possibilities of what can be accessed, what can be hunted, and what ingredients can be gathered. Soon, your once puppy-like dragon will grow larger than Ren or Rin, with powerful wings and razor-sharp teeth. To avoid spoilers, I won’t discuss any more of the story and how it progresses, but I will say that, while simple, the story carries the game once the process of learning the mechanics is complete. Things get a bit boring after a while, and progression slows. Once the initial excitement of pulling carrots from bushes had subsided, it was the over-the-top characters and their antics that held my interest. After a while, I didn’t really want to venture out and spend time fishing, but I did want to see how the café’s employees would manage to step on each other’s toes next. Oh, and my mom—of course, I wanted to save my mom.
To be honest, once the game really hits its stride, the tragedy that set everything in motion is largely forgotten. This is a bit problematic when it’s supposed to be your primary motivation for raising the dragon and running the café, but maybe it’s for the best. Focusing too much on the comatose mom might be too much of a downer for this lighthearted adventure. Actually, looking too much into most of the characters’ stories leads to somewhat troubling revelations. There isn’t anything explicit or deeply upsetting that would bother any young players, but an older player would likely see some of the issues and realize that there really is a bit more depth to these characters. They may be walking caricatures of themselves, but their issues are recognizable and make sympathizing with them easier. I was legitimately impressed and surprised to see that any depth of character was being put into the writing of these characters, even if it was largely hidden behind all of the silliness.
So, there you have it. A game about a pair of twins whose mother falls into a coma because of her secret dragon blood, forcing the twins to raise a dragon while also running their mother’s café, which they staff with several complete strangers, guided only by a magic old man who arrived from nowhere. As strange as the premise is, the game manages to pull it off, providing a pretty solid children’s game. Unfortunately, the game is being released at $60, and it’s just not worth the price. It’s just not on the same level as other games selling for the same price. Would I recommend Little Dragons Café for a child? Absolutely. Would I recommend you buy Little Dragons Café for a child at its current price point? Absolutely not. There is plenty of content and it’s a decent game, but there are a lot of other games that are on-par with this one that are selling for less than half the price. Until the price comes down, I can’t in good conscience recommend that you buy it, and that’s a shame.
**Switch key provided by the publisher**
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Little Dragons Café Review – Lighthearted (and Pricey) Fun