Most games about food are stressful. Restaurant sims like Cook, Serve, Delicious! and even whimsical local co-op games like Overcooked often focus player interaction on the chaos of kitchen work: assembling ingredients, following recipes, satisfying customers, and dealing with clean-up.
Cooking, and consequently food, becomes a taxing ordeal, defined almost entirely by its preparation and rarely on the magic and art of it – we are rewarded with the relief of a completed objective, while the actual meal itself remains largely uncelebrated. That’s where Nour comes in.
Check out a minute of Nour’s hypnotic gameplay below.
A charming, wildly-colored absurdist mess.
Part physics toy, part interactive pop art gallery, Nour delivers a much more playful take on food games by centering entirely on the joy of food itself. It’s a charming, wildly-colored absurdist mess played by, quite fittingly, smashing random keys on your keyboard, and I’ve come to love it ever since constructing my first penta-strawed monster milk tea at this year’s Game Developers Conference. I played my most recent demo, which came just before the success of its recent Kickstarter campaign, on my PC’s keyboard, but you can also play Nour on nearly any MIDI controller. At GDC, I tested it on a neon-lit MIDI Fighter 3D, which made me feel like some kind of unconventional DJ, orchestrating a bizarre and hilarious culinary performance with each haphazard button press.
Each key triggers a new event or transformation across Nour’s handful of levels. You might start by chucking individual tapioca balls at a cup of milk tea before escalating them into a flurry of bubbles and straws. Popping individual popcorn kernels on a wobbly platform before sending them flying in a hail of salt is strangely mesmerizing, as is piling a shower of ramen noodles, tofu, and halved eggs into a bowl of broth and topping it all off with oversized cuts of pork.
There is something musical about Nour‘s playful unpredictability.
In one particularly absurd scenario, a shiny chrome meat grinder sits fastened on a white counter above a glimmering plate as each cautious tap on my keyboard unleashes a series of odd fillings: a gold bar, a stray piece of popcorn, and a sea green hoverboard all plop neatly into its funnel before I even see a cube of beef. Turning the crank is oddly satisfying, even as I end up with a growing pile of noodled meat, gold, plastic, and other questionable materials. Each level is like this: a clean, minimalist palette — neatly aligned rows of toasters, a slowly rotating bowl of broth — just waiting for you to wreak havoc on it.
“Have you ever had a meal so good that you keep thinking about it long after you’ve eaten it?” creator Tj Hughes asks me during a conversation about Nour. “Something about the flavor, the texture, or presentation is so memorable that it replays in your mind, almost like a catchy melody getting stuck in your head? It’s those kinds of dining experiences I hope to capture in Nour.”
Indeed, despite the soundless build I demoed, there is something musical about the experience of playing Nour. It’s like a visual breakcore beat – that playful abruptness and chaos lent by its random key bindings defines each moment even as it makes the next nearly unpredictable. When Nour does have sound, Hughes imagines it “as instantaneous and gratifying as the action itself.”
But it’s also that celebration of the physical qualities and experience of food that makes Nour (which is short for “nourish,” Hughes tells me) so memorable – the colors of neapolitan ice cream, the hypnotic transformation of popcorn, the refined beauty of ramen, the texture of sliced bread in its many levels of toastedness. Hughes tells me he’s found inspiration in the art of anime food.
“Anime, for some reason, always manages to animate food in such a way that immediately makes me hungry,” says Hughes. He isn’t lying – the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo is literally running an exhibit right now on the art of food in Studio Ghibli’s animated films. And in the world of games, who can forget the startling photorealism of Final Fantasy XV’s many delicacies?
Eschews “goals” in favor of experimentation.
“Good looking animated food [is] almost a genre in and of itself,” says Hughes, whose own 3D food-rendering style walks a line between appetizing low poly realism and the toy-like artificiality that lends Nour its surreal vibes.
Other food Hughes hopes to explore in Nour include bento boxes, sushi, an apparently dramatic donut level, avocado toast (controversial), dog food, and… boneless pizza. Everything from the comedy of its mechanics to its surreal presentation keeps Nour close to its absurdist roots, which Hughes cites as a major inspiration
Even the way you “play” Nour remains deliberately absurd, eschewing “objectives” in the conventional sense in favor of pure, unrestrained experimentation. Hughes tells me Nour may eventually have “achievements” for successfully pulling off certain key interactions, like getting a pair of chopsticks into a bowl of ramen, but he found that trying to work in more game-y elements like scores or strict goals “ultimately took away fun from the experience, and were unnecessary constraints to what otherwise would be fun and open gameplay.”
That freedom is part of what’s given Nour such a strong and imaginative foundation, whatever direction it happens to take.
Chloi Rad is an Associate Editor for IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.