Released as a free game for PC on 11 March 2022, Sondering Studio’s A Taste of the Past is a narrative side-scroller with cooking mini-games that brings players on a poignant and introspective adventure. Follow the protagonist on a 30-minute journey that is pickled in bittersweet memories and simmering under the gentle fire of familial love lasting through generations.
Finding Familial Roots Through Food
A Taste of the Past tells the story of Mei, a Chinese-American high school student whose mother had suddenly passed away. Not long after her mother’s death, Mei was aboard a train holding onto a faded recipe that once belonged to her mother. Just as she was feeling sorrowful about her mother’s passing and the now illegible recipe, she found herself in the company of her ancestors, who all had something important to tell her — including how to piece back the cherished recipe in her hand.
As an overseas Chinese, I am heartened by the familiar culture showcased in A Taste of the Past. From the food, ingredients, preparation, and cooking methods to the interior decorations, there is much that feels like home to me. I could also see a bit of myself in Mei, especially with her bilingualism and transliterated name, both of which mark the influence of two different cultures in her life. Still, what delighted me the most is seeing symbolism, which is integral to Chinese tradition and culture, forming a big part of the game.
An Emotional Passage Through Time
Like any train that brings individuals from destination to destination, the train in A Taste of the Past brings Mei on a surreal journey where she meets her ancestors and learns about grief, her family, and ultimately, herself. Her ancestors, some of whom Mei is more familiar with and others with whom she has never met, are spread across different sections of the train. Each section houses a single generation and goes further back in time than the one before. Not only does walking through the linear train layout from section to section create an illusion of traveling up along the family tree, but it also subtly points out the inherent connections between generations and the same space they share.
On the train, Mei has several heartfelt conversations with her ancestors that hurt and heal at the same time. Some of her ancestors have personalities that are all too familiar to me, like the ancestor who likes to play a prank or two on Mei, and the one who is all about tough love.
Meals Prepared with Love
A Taste of the Past features eight cooking mini-games that may look standard enough but have the potential to hit one in the feels unexpectedly. From things as simple as Mei washing her hands at the basin, dicing the ingredients on the chopping board, and stir-frying them in the pan, there are a lot of familiar sights and sounds to be found. The final two mini-games, in particular, made me tear up as the act of preparing those foods is almost like Mei was gently wrapping each and every moment she had with her mother into her heart.
Generally, the mini-games have clear instructions, though during my first playthrough, I completely missed the instructions for the one where players have to mix three liquids. The words disappeared before I realized they were there. Luckily, the mini-games have a rather fail-safe design to them: in this case, the mini-game does not let me pour the liquid into the bowl if I have picked the incorrect one.
All in all, the games are pleasantly casual with no time limit imposed. Though, the jigsaw puzzle always annoyed me a little due to the visible gaps between its jigsaw pieces that are supposed to fit perfectly.
Art and Audio Aspects
The art is pleasing on the whole. I like how smooth and lively most of the animations are, but I am especially impressed with the thought behind the details in the art. Each train section houses a different generation, and the train sections are furnished according to the generation they house. From the chairs and decorations to the ceiling lights and windows, the entire walk is like a visual trip down history. Furthermore, the consistent use of complementary yellow-orange and blue hues is brilliant in terms of providing great visual contrast and representing the Chinese and American cultural influences in this Chinese-American’s family.
There are only a few background music tracks in A Taste of the Past and they are all gentle, which helps create a soft atmosphere for players to savor the story slowly. Sound effects (SFX) are mostly used for creating a realistic environment and double as audio cues in the mini-games. The appearance of dialogue text appearances is accompanied by simple SFX too. There is unfortunately only a single SFX volume slider, but one may still reduce the dialogue SFX to a short sound by setting the Text Speed to instantaneous.
The ending scenes of A Taste of the Past are fully voiced. Overall, the voice artists have done a decent job of capturing the complicated emotions of the characters sufficiently.
User Interface Controls and Functions
There is no save or auto-save function for this short game, which means players are going to have to play it through in one sitting. Although Sondering Studio indeed recommends players to experience A Taste of the Past in one sitting, having a save function would have been nice. As the game touches on topics that can be very close to one’s heart, some may appreciate a save function that allows them to step away and take a breather after certain scenes before returning to where they left off.
Both the keyboard and mouse are required to play this narrative side-scroller. While there is no option to remap keys, the controls are simple and intuitive. “E” is used for advancing dialogue text and interacting with people and objects in the train, and Mei can be moved using either the “A” and “D” or left and right arrow keys. The mouse is used for selecting dialogue choices as well as interacting with all the cooking mini-games, which basically rely on single click, drag and drop, or click and hold gestures.
Something that is somewhat pesky is the Settings menu. In-game, the “Esc” key brings up the Settings menu but does not close it; it can only be closed by clicking on the back arrow button on the screen. Furthermore, the setting for the voice volume is kind of bugged. Muting the voice channel works as long as I do not quit the game. Every time I run the game after quitting it, the voice-overs will return despite the Settings showing them muted. In addition, I find the darkened effect used for the selected Subtitles option to be confusing. I have mistakenly thought the subtitles are initially off as the “On” button looks greyed out to me.
Within the game itself, bugs are minimal. I have spotted only one typo. There is also a minor bug with a particular ancestor’s dialogue tree where she will not give Mei the instruction to chop the vegetables if Mei has chosen the painting option when talking with her.
Using a combination of heartwarming conversations and meaningful cooking tasks, A Taste of the Past tells a sincere story about family and grief through the lens of Mei, a Chinese-American teenager. It may take only half an hour to play the entire narrative side-scroller, but the emotions that it evoked would linger on longer than that — like the faint aroma of dinner sticking around the kitchen where Mei’s mother was.
A TASTE OF THE PAST IS RECOMMENDED
Looking for similar games? How about checking out The Good Life?
A Taste of the Paste by Sondering Studio is free on Steam/Itch.io.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
A person with many hobbies (and even more WIPs), KuroKairin plays, playtests, and reviews PC games. She loves games with good stories that bring her on an emotional and thought-provoking journey. Her favourite genres include otome visual novel, point and click, puzzle, and RPG. Follow her @KuroKairin.