I’ve never had a particularly positive relationship with food. Growing up, it was pure utility – I ate just to fill up and meals consisted of whatever I could find and figure out how to prepare. These days, I’m very much living the inner-Melbourne suburban lifestyle of hitting up some sort of app and pushing buttons until a meal arrives and then eating it at my coffee table in front of the TV.
That’s an overlong and slightly dismal way of leading into my point – I’ve never really gotten a lot of out food in video games, or any medium. Final Fantasy XV’s campside meals prepared by the talented Ignis were gorgeously-rendered, but I can’t say that I ever paid much attention to what they were or meant to the crew outside of forking out (heh) handy stat buffs for the next day. The recently-released Venba is probably the closest I’ve come to feeling some kind of understanding of how food brings folks together and unlocks memories, but I still didn’t really connect with those ideas the way I imagine other people have.
That’s where Nour: Play With Your Food comes in. Here’s a game, though I use that term loosely, that takes all of the pressure off of exploring and experimenting with food. The meals and ingredients in Nour aren’t meant to tantalise anyone’s tastebuds and they certainly aren’t rooted in any rich culinary history or theory. This collection of food-based interactive art pieces invite you to study food from a different perspective, and with a hammer and blowtorch in hand. Here, you’re pulled out of the noise and tumult of the real world and sat squarely in front of a dish, or a collection of dishes, or components of one, nothing else around you but sparse, liminal space to fill with your own thoughts, feelings and errant ketchup squirts.
From the outset, Nour is clear that it has no expectations of you or how you choose to engage with it. The 20-odd “dishes” that you’ll “play” through might be unlocked one-by-one in a linear fashion but there are no set objectives. You dive into each vignette, observe and play with the foodstuffs presented to you for as long or as little as you feel compelled or interested to and then as soon as you deign to leave you’ll be allowed to move onto the next. Someone could feasibly knock out some approximation of a playthrough in 30-60 minutes, but it’s also entirely possible you’ll find yourself entranced for just as long by just one instance, mesmerised by an experience of your own making.
Most stages here offers up a specific set of foodstuffs and the same general arsenal of utensils, and you’re welcome to try and puzzle out how they’re best combined to create some semblance of a “solution” but the real joy is just trying shit to see what happens. There are baked-in outcomes and deviously-hidden secrets to uncover, but there are also physics interactions – both plausible and abstract – to play with, cooking principles to act out and even musical, rhythmic elements to mess with. Not every section is strictly a look at a dish or ingredients, some are more toy-like with toasters arranged into drum pads or a microwave you can throw an assortment of junk into to see what cooks.
Nour works as well as it does largely because, bereft of the two senses you’d primarily associate with food, the others are engaged so fantastically. Colour and form are explored in inventive and inviting ways, as is sound thanks to a healthy smattering of sick beats (but no sick beets, sadly) and kitchen acoustics, but with controller in hand and the analog nature of its interactions there’s also a wonderful tactility to everything that rounds out its sensory encounters.
If I had to level any criticisms, I would’ve actually liked to see some more defined and designed puzzles or challenges of some kind, outside of working through a list of trophies/achievements for virtual brownie points, but I understand that goals aren’t really the goal here. Some of the ways that food and objects mix don’t always line up with expectation either, leaving unrealised mucking-about potential on the proverbial table when things seem ripe for tomfoolery but instead don’t interact at all, or are let down by awkward controls.
I’ve opted not to assign Nour a tradition review score, given it doesn’t really fit the bill of a traditional game, and for similar reasons it’s hard to really say who it’s for or readily recommend spending the money to discover if you get anything out of it – but that’s art, I guess?
Nour: Play With Your Food is a bold, entrancing and often inspired little collection of interactive, food-based vignettes with a greater focus on exploring colour, form and sound than any real gastronomical ideas. It's occasionally awkward, and will probably disappoint anyone looking for an actual game amongst its fleeting distractions, but it's worth a look in for the vibes alone.
A genuinely interesting take on interactive art
Offers up varying experiences from thoughtful, to joyful, to plain silly
Great aesthetic throughout
Awkward controls and physics can pull you out of the experience
Won't grab your attention for more than an hour or so