venba review

Venba Review – Food For The Soul

Sweet, but short-lived.

Venba, from a structural sense, reminds me a lot of Florence, a melancholic little mobile experience out of Melbourne’s own studio Mountains. It’s a fleeting, at times mournful, slice of life depiction of ordinary people living out relatively ordinary experiences. In a story that touches on cultural assimilation, identity in the face of harrowing bigotry, and relational memory through something as simple as cooking, it does an exceptional job blending these themes into a seventy minute vignette that cuts through to the core like a warm knife through butter. 

After immigrating to Canada with her beau, the eponymous Venba falls pregnant leaving the pair weighing up a shift back home to their native India rather than resign themselves to an unfulfilling life, full of failed ambition and struggle, in what would be a land of opportunity for their child. With hopeful naivety they opt to stick it out, struggling for steady work in their fields of expertise while raising a young son who immerses himself less and less in their family’s culture. As a parent, to have an unbridgeable rift form sounds like a nightmare and it’s a devastating scenario that Venba posits, but it does so through a lens that’s foreign to me and I think there’s valuable learning in that.

venba review

While it definitely speaks to interpersonal challenges, it makes them right through the commonalities that do come with heritage. It’s a solemn reminder that, whoever you are, life is just one-take. It’s their relationship with Kavin, their son, that reminded me of a sad fact I’d heard recently that suggests a majority of the time a parent will ever spend with their children is, for obvious reasons, in their first eighteen years of living. You imprint yourself on them, impart all you can, and then they’re gone. For the most part, at least. 

And in an hour and change, I feel like Venba serves as a lesson to make the most of those moments and memories and it does this, to great effect, through its singular gameplay mechanic of cooking. Just as Coffee Talk had its exchange of thoughts and ideas revolve around a hot pour, Venba expresses plenty through food—how it reflects culture, provides comfort, and how it can form and remain the basis of core memories so that all you’d need is a hint of cardamom to have a life lived come flooding back to you.

venba review

The act of cooking in Venba is pretty uncomplicated, it’s a simple and relaxing exercise of combination, just as soon as the method is pulled from memory. During the early chapters, Venba relies on her mother’s recipes which you’ll find etched in Tamil, although readable to us players in English, within a small, red journal. Oftentimes, steps will be obscured by a spill or a torn page so it’ll take a bit of experimentation to uncover the order of things. I do like how the game handles the exploratory side of cooking and how it doesn’t punish missteps. A ruined meal might go down the disposal at home, whereas Venba returns you to step one. 

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There’s a saying that suggests food for the body isn’t enough, and that food must nourish the soul, as well. As someone who’s learned this first-hand, dabbling with the slow cooker in these winter months, Venba also hammers home the generational, inheritable qualities of the cooked meal which, while not so much in ours, is a massive part of South Asian cultures.

venba review

To say there’s a lot to Venba would be disingenuous. It’s stripped back and minimalistic in its approach to gameplay, but it’s clear from the offset that the mechanics serve their narrative purpose, creating a tangible link between mother and son that culminates by the game’s close. As I’ve mentioned, the game is short, totalling just seventy-five minutes. For a game like Florence, that runtime matched the gold-coin asking price, whereas Venba is a hair steeper, therefore making it a harder sell. 

Venba, as an era-spanning narrative game, does a great job of depicting the character’s lives throughout what is, by the end, a life shared for three decades. There’s a warmth in the game’s colour palette that calls to mind a curry on a cold day, and I adore the noticeable ageing of the characters, the technology of the eighties—which is where Venba’s journey begins—gradually informing their modern contemporaries, it’s so full of little touches that help Venba’s small world feel real. There’s also an authenticity that emanates from both the cuisine and score, which made me hungry and merry respectively.

venba review

Although I found Venba to be a moving and frankly educational vignette that sheds light on a culture and a people I know staggeringly little about, it is a tough sell at its price point given its length. But even though it doesn’t stick around nearly long enough to break the skin, we all know from the fruit and veg we eat each day that the skin is where the good stuff is.

venba review
Conclusion
Venba is a sweet, short-lived episode that presents the place held by food and cooking within our lives and cultures as near-on divine. It explores familiar relationships, as well as the ones we keep, for better or worse, with food itself, and left me with plenty to ponder as the credits rolled.
Positives
A touching little narrative about relationships, both food and familial
Relaxing cooking methods
Lovely soulful presentation that feels authentic through and through
Negatives
A little over an hour long
Hard to justify at its price point
8