These days, a lot of gamers — and game makers, for that matter — are obsessed with “content”. How many hours of stuff is a game filled with? Is a game “worth” its asking price in terms of how much “content” it offers? Well, dear reader, frankly I’m old enough and ugly enough to remember when times were different: times when games like Cake Invaders ruled the roost. Times when games did one thing and one thing alone — and they did it really well.
Yes, Cake Invaders is an unabashedly no-frills retro-style experience at its heart. It has one game mode, no difficulty settings, no achievements (on Switch, anyway, which is where I was playing it), no “campaign”, no way to “beat” it, no unlockables, no experience points, no “play to earn”, no in-game currency, no gacha elements. It’s a game you fire up, play, attempt to set a high score, then set aside when you’re good and done with it for the day. And I love it.
In Cake Invaders, you take on the role of a heroic spacefaring Baumkuchen defender. You are transporting your precious Baumkuchen through the cosmos for reasons unknown, and your transportation vessel has come under attack from a variety of pixelated insectoid foes. Since everyone else on the ship appears more prone to panicking than doing anything useful, you step up to the plate with one of the conveniently provided miniguns and attempt to fend off the unwanted attentions of your assailants until the inevitable end comes.
Cake Invaders is controlled by moving a gunsight around the screen; pressing (or holding) the fire button causes your character to shoot towards this crosshair. However, since you’re firing laser shots rather than exploding missiles, the shot will continue to fly onwards past the crosshair — the important thing to note is that the crosshair is the point where the shot was aimed. What this means in practice is that you don’t need to position the crosshair directly over the top of an enemy to shoot them; you just need to aim in such a way that your shots intersect them.
This might not seem like a huge consideration in the early stages of the game, but as you progress you obtain power-ups, arguably the most useful of which is the addition of an extra minigun-wielding Baumkuchen defender — you can have up to five in total. Besides increasing your overall firepower, shots coming from multiple positions adds an additional factor, too: now the crosshair becomes the point at which everyone’s shots converge, meaning that they all spread out again beyond that position, allowing you to potentially cover a much wider area at the expense of focused, powerful fire.
In Cake Invaders, you acquire power-ups simply by destroying enemies. This adds to a rainbow-coloured meter in the corner of the screen, and when this fills up a rainbow-coloured orb starts bouncing around the screen. Destroy this and you’re given a random power-up from several available: the aforementioned additional gunner, an increase to your shot power, an increase to your fire rate, a “sugar coating” for your Baumkuchen, which protects them from one hit, or one of two limited-ammo special weapons.
How well each playthrough goes is quite heavily determined by the power-ups you get; things get significantly easier with just one or two additional gunners, for example, simply because you can cover much more of the play area with your shots. And this makes a huge difference, because allowing an enemy to get through and take a bite out of your precious Baumkuchen also costs you one of your power-ups — be it an extra gunner, the upgraded power or the increased fire rate.
This can be a little frustrating when it feels like random chance has screwed you over a bit, but such is the nature of old-school arcade games; as you improve your skills, you’ll be able to better deal with the situations you’re presented with.
The two limited-ammo weapons consist of a laser which pierces enemies rather than its bullets disappearing on a successful hit, and an exploding “Dokkan” weapon which explodes at the crosshair Missile Command-style, potentially taking a large group of enemies with it. These are especially useful at times when large quantities of enemies are approaching from different directions at once — something which becomes increasingly likely from about wave 10 onwards.
Every five waves, you’re presented with a bonus round of sorts in which most of the enemies are golden, and in which power-ups are much more likely to appear, even if you haven’t filled the meter. This is a great opportunity to buff yourself back up after a mishap — though unlike many classic arcade games, there’s no means of earning extra “lives”; once a Baumkuchen is gone, it’s gone.
And that’s about it, really! Cake Invaders simply proceeds like that, getting more and more challenging and quicker as you progress through the waves. There’s no way of “beating” the game; like in classic Atari 2600 games and old-school arcade games, failure is inevitable, it’s just a case of surviving for as long as possible and setting as high a score as you can. And yes, there are global leaderboards available for you to compete against other players across the world — an all but essential inclusion in a game like this released these days.
Cake Invaders is a great example of developer Zoo Corporation — best known for its expansive “Pretty Girls” series of mildly lewd arcade-style games — branching out a bit and trying something different. I mean, honestly speaking I wouldn’t have said no to “Pretty Girls Cake Invaders”, but the more conventional retro feel for this one works well given its overall design and structure — and it’s nice to see the company catering to a wider audience than just the lewdies. (Not that there’s anything wrong with catering to lewdies, of course — but unbelievably, there are some people out there who prefer their arcade-style games without boobs!)
For those hungry for “content”, Cake Invaders is going to disappoint you, because it is what it is and absolutely nothing more than that. But for those who remember — or at least appreciate — the good old days of a game having absolutely no shame in simply being a game and nothing else, you’ll have a good time with this one. It’s a great game to have installed on your Switch for when you just fancy a quick blast between more substantial gaming sessions — and in that sense, it fits right in with the rest of Zoo’s excellent library on the platform.
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