Raising a kid is hard enough, but doing so when you’re far from home must be even tougher. Venba is a game that seeks to explore this idea, following the titular character, her husband Paavalan, and their son Kavin throughout several points in her life. Venba uses traditional Tamil recipes to keep in touch with her roots, which are contextualized here as puzzles for the player to solve since Venba’s mother’s recipe book is a bit damaged. It’s a short game with a heartfelt narrative and unique perspective that’s well worth playing.
In almost every scene, you’ll be tasked with creating a particular dish by using the ingredients in the correct order. For example, when making Idlis you need to put a cloth over the pan before putting the dough in. You have the recipe book to guide you, but since key parts are damaged or missing you need to figure things out on your own. You can get hits about the recipe if you’re really stuck (along with some fun facts), but I only needed these once. I don’t think I could make any of these dishes in real life, but it’s still very cool to see a glimpse of how they’re made.
The story is really Venba’s main draw, and I don’t want to spoil that at all. It’s excellently written, with nice details like English text boxes (conveyed through yellow lettering, when characters are speaking in Tamil the text is white) being made harder to read since Venba doesn’t speak English fluently. This is an important and unique story from an often overlooked perspective.
The game takes only 90 minutes to complete, and while it does convey all of its themes and ideas within that time, I can’t help but feel one or two more scenes would have helped things feel more fleshed out. There’s a massive time jump in the story, from when Kavin is about 5 years old to him moving out for college, and one more chapter in between would have made this feel less jarring. I do understand that this big jump is intentional, “kids grow up so fast” and everything, but because of this Kavin’s character wasn’t as developed as Venba or Paavalan.
Aside from story reasons, I think there needed to be one more puzzle here as well. The game’s first two chapters really hold your hand to give you an idea of how things work, but after that you’re almost left entirely on your own. Again, this represents that Venba is getting better at her mother’s recipes, she’s basically memorized them by a point, but playing the game made it feel like the training wheels were suddenly removed entirely. I think one puzzle with similarities to other recipes later in the game could have helped this transition.
Those issues are, at the end of the day, nitpicks. Venba is a must play for anyone interested in games as art, curious about Tamil culture, or just want a unique and emotional story. The art style and music are particular standouts, with everything looking like chalk drawings thanks to fuzzy outlines, and some Indian songs, including a licensed track. You can tell this was a work of real passion, it shows in every bit of Venba.
A special mention should also be paid to the UI and UX. In puzzles, the game uses a very simple drag and drop method of using ingredients so you can easily experiment and see what does what. The main menu is also a delight, with each sub menu being a different piece of cookware, or the recipe book for chapter select. It’s simply delightful, along with the rest of the game.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
Venba is a heartfelt tale of an immigrant mother doing her best to raise a son in Canada while passing on her Tamil culture. It’s a story not often told, and it will stick with you long after the credits roll. Learning about this culture is a ton of fun and done through inventive puzzles having you cook traditional dishes. It’s a gorgeous, passionate game that gives you a glimpse into another culture.