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Diets & Deities Review

Reverb and spices

Diets and Deities is the latest title from Darwin-based studio Larrikin Interactive. As a Darwin kid myself, it was comforting being surrounded by the languages, food, and art that defined my childhood. Elements that are always bound to blend together in such a tiny space, where my own cultures in turn were free to play. I was particularly excited to immerse myself in the array of characters, recipes, and songs that are at the forefront of the game. I adore the premise of unlocking traditional cuisine through rhythm challenges and entering into a conversation around sharing and preserving culture (and the trickiness of it). However, despite the studio working with fresh, unique, and complex ingredients, they seem to have served it all up in fast-food fashion. It simply needed more time to cook.

The story kicks off in a world corrupted by the bland, homogenised foods of Colonel KFZ, a jacked-up-deity version of the well-known fried chicken icon. Playing as newly created cloud spirit, Nephele, your task is to dance-cook your way into the hearts of corrupted deities, to remind them of their cultural dishes and disentangle them from KFZ’s greasy web. Nephele must save the world while figuring out who she is, why she was created, and resisting the corruption herself.

There’s clearly a heck of a lot going on, but with a total playthrough of (roughly) an hour and a half, the various elements do not have enough time to get to know each other in the pot. I found every aspect I enjoyed came with a caveat, things that could have been improved upon with patience and thyme (Guan Yin, Diets and Deities, 2024).

The central play feature is the rhythm-based levels, which begin as enjoyable challenges and plateau into a consistent and comfortable difficulty level throughout. Nephele dodges corruption spikes while collecting ‘echoes’ (cultural essence) thrown out by her dance partner/sous chefs via song. This is also where the game is at its prettiest; with pixel-art backgrounds of flowing waterfalls, deserts, beach sides, and the animated fry-pan of Nephele being set ablaze every time she collects echoes.

The first region is inspired by First Nations culture, where the deity Barong resides. His songs include traditional instrumentation, such as didgeridoo, baked into techno structures. All songs are breezy and engaging, with the subsequent Balinese and Brazilian regions following this logic, including distinct sounds from their respective cultures. Personally, I would have liked to see a deeper engagement here, where songs are further influenced by time signatures and melodies of these musical cultures. This may have also made for more dynamic dance sequences.

The highlight of the game, the main course if you will, is completing challenges to unlock recipes, which come with ingredients lists and step-by-step methods. I truly got hungry while playing (even after a snack) and many of the recipes, such as the Saltbush Koftas and the Empadão de Frango I’ve saved for when I eventually give them a go. This was the big success of the game, and one of the moments where the themes and mechanics really come together. As deities share their foods, the player becomes trusted holders of these traditional recipes, ones they can bring to life in their real worlds, outside of their game device. This pairs nicely with the larger discussion on the delicate balance of preservation; when to withhold and when to share cultural assets.

The narrative held strong, but for some story threads that went astray by its conclusion. I was disheartened to find that after the final rhythm battle the game ends without, well, an ending! Like having a three-course meal without a dessert! Most of the written dialogue is funny, silly, and serious when it needs to be, but with so little interaction between deities there isn’t an opportune moment for them to become distinct and memorable. I did enjoy the ‘twist’ that happens, but again, it would have landed more elegantly if I had spent more time with the excellently designed characters.

Lastly, it was an almost impossible task for the writers to engage in a nuanced discussion around food and culture in such a short playtime. The final regional map, ruled over by KFZ and his takeaway empire, is where this is most pronounced. I had a knee-jerk reaction to the first recipe; Chicken Waffles, considering the dish has its own cultural history, particularly tied to the soul foods of North America. Between Nephele wanting to tinker with these recipes, KFZ admitting that he despises the food he creates, and short dialogues on the ease of consuming takeaway, I was confused about the intended message. What started as a celebration of diverse foods began to feel like a vilification of certain cuisines, something that left me with a slightly burnt taste in my mouth and something I’m sure the team did not want to communicate.

Final Thoughts

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In an ideal world, players will purchase the game and have a nice time with the beat challenges, taking the recipes into their real worlds. My dream would then be for Larrikin Interactive to build on that success by expanding what truly are the makings of a spectacular, culturally impactful, play experience. It should also be noted that layered onto the game’s short development time is the incredible community building work the studio does in Darwin, striving to foster a video game culture in a town that is largely devoid of it. Diets and Deities puts them on the map, not just as a studio that can execute neat game mechanics, but one that cares about the voices, experiences, and flavours of their communities.

Reviewed on Steam Deck // Review code supplied by publisher

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Diets & Deities Review
Dancing up an appetite
Set against beautiful landscapes populated by a cast of wickedly cool deities, Diets and Deities is a short multicultural rhythm game which seeks to make your body move, your tastebuds dance, and your heart engage with its casual gameplay experience combining deep story themes exploring cultural preservation and consumption.
The Good
Awesome blend of 2D character designs and pixel-art animations
Catchy tunes with fun keep-the-beat mechanics
An assortment of dishes you can learn to make IRL
Culturally impactful themes
The Bad
Playtime is short, around 1.5 hours
Story elements are not fully realised
6.5
Has A Crack
  • Larrikin Interactive
  • Larrikin Interactive
  • PC
  • February 21, 2024

Diets & Deities Review
Dancing up an appetite
Set against beautiful landscapes populated by a cast of wickedly cool deities, Diets and Deities is a short multicultural rhythm game which seeks to make your body move, your tastebuds dance, and your heart engage with its casual gameplay experience combining deep story themes exploring cultural preservation and consumption.
The Good
Awesome blend of 2D character designs and pixel-art animations
Catchy tunes with fun keep-the-beat mechanics
An assortment of dishes you can learn to make IRL
Culturally impactful themes
The Bad
Playtime is short, around 1.5 hours
Story elements are not fully realised
6.5
Has A Crack
Written By Josefina Huq

Josefina Huq is a creative writer of play, place, and short stories. Her work deals in extreme sentimentality while her research attempts to justify this as a good thing. @misc_cutlet / josefinahuq.com.au

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