I’ve talked about how I dislike Cook Serve Delicious 2’s lack of food upgrades, meaning that every food type comes in right away with every recipe unlocked, which makes it impractical to slowly memorize the input combos for certain order types and thus necessitates hunting for each ingredient one at a time. There’s still a finite number of recipes per food type and they still all have unique names (I think – due to the impracticality of actually using this information, I haven’t thoroughly checked), so you can still memorize them all, but it would require dedicated study and this is a video game, not a business venture. If I’m going to be doing work, I have much more profitable and/or artistically satisfying ventures to be working on.
But Cook Serve Delicious 2 also has a number of improvements over its original. For starters, its menu is vastly expanded. Whereas the original had not quite forty different food types, the sequel has more than I can count and I estimate somewhere in the low hundreds. The limited food types meant that there were only a small handful of themed menus you could create: You could run a diner, an Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and a fancy restaurant. Also technically a concessions stand, but only because you have very few menu slots at low levels so corndogs, pretzels, soda, and popillas could fill up the whole thing. In Cook Serve Delicious 2, the hundreds of menu items mean it’s possible to have dozens of different themed restaurants, as indeed the game comes with thirty-three different pre-made restaurants.
Cook Serve Delicious had a few special challenge levels – catering jobs, Iron Chef challenges, the doom recipes of the ancient chef ninjas – where you had to cook a specific menu, focused on just one or two foods. Whereas the main game allowed you to assemble your own menu guided by various factors, mainly centered around increasing buzz to drive more traffic to your restaurant and thus allow you to make more money in a single day (but also have to serve more customers in the same amount of time, driving up difficulty), these missions were specific, set challenges. Cook Serve Delicious 2 massively expands this concept with its thirty-three pre-built restaurants that you can work shifts in, often 10-ish shifts total. Each restaurant has a theme, and the menu for that restaurant steadily expands and the buzz steadily increases as you go up shifts. The menu doesn’t expand just by adding new food types, however, but first by cycling food types out while keeping just three or four entrees on the menu, making it easier to learn as you go, and only slowly expanding to a full menu of six entrees (along with usually some number of side dishes, although since the way the mechanics work a greater number of side dishes makes things easier, the more difficult shifts are usually no sides, entrees only, Final Destination).
And while the removal of upgrades has made it impractical to memorize the menu thoroughly enough to get even a bronze medal on all the shifts, the game also added Zen Mode, which gives you an infinite timer to fulfill all orders. Much like my cunning strategy for beating Hollow Knight’s hardest challenges, this lets me engage with the challenge up to the point where I’m no longer having fun, and then turn about 90% of the challenge off and coast through the finish line (silver and gold medals are disabled on Zen Mode, but I was never going to sink in the triple-digit number of hours needed to get silver on all 350-ish challenge levels).
I think the lack of upgrades does CSD 2 a huge disservice because of how rough it makes the early game. Getting to grips with the more complicated menu items is very annoying early on, and the strengths of the game don’t really show themselves until you’ve gotten past that frustration embedded in its primary gameplay loop. The original had an elegant solution to this problem that the sequel has ditched for no reason, which is too bad, because once you muscle through that issue, it really is a major upgrade on the first game.