Venba has managed to turn a lot of heads since its first announcement at Nintendo Direct in late 2022. After all, you don’t get frequently games where you need to prepare South Indian cuisine throughout the experience. I gravitated toward Venba after I finally got a chance to play the demo during Steam Next Fest. Not only did it feature the first chapter, but it featured the catchy tune composed by Alpha Something. So, my expectations for the title were a tad high from the get-go.
Venba is a great package of mouth-watering food, beautiful Tamil music, and a story several millennial Indians might relate to. Thanks to an early copy provided by Toronto-based Visai Games, I had my hands full with the title for a week. And I have much to talk about it. So, here’s my review of Venba for your consumption.
The Tale of an Indian Family in Canada
This is the first time in a while that much of my focus will gravitate toward the story of Venba. The game centers around a Tamil family consisting of the titular character Venba, her husband Paavalan, and their son Kaavin.
The journey starts with Venba and Paavalan relocating to Canada in 1988, focusing on their struggles and raising their son. Parallelly, the story turns focus on the son growing up around the Canadian lifestyle and accepting his Indian identity. Venba and Paavalan want their son to remember their Indian traditions and Tamil heritage. Whereas, our Canada-born and brought-up boy is embarrassed by his Indian roots and wants to avoid it.
As a middle-class Indian kid spending his entire life in India, these topics hardly strum a chord in my heart. Hence, struggling with your heritage and identity is a foreign concept for someone who hardly experienced it in the country. India has a lot of problems, but trying to accept your Indian roots might be at the end of the list for us millennial kids living in the country.
At the same time, these topics are much more relatable to someone who was born in an Indian family and grew through their performative years in a foreign country. Expecting our cultural roots in foreign countries is difficult. Growing around people who predominantly speak a different language from your mother tongue, and trying to adjust to the culture will overwhelm any child. A family living much of their life in India and moving to a foreign country will always try to stay close to their roots and expect the same from their kin.
This is what Venba tries to tackle; the struggles between their kid and the family. If you are a diaspora kid, chances are that you had these conversations with your family about how you are embarrassed by openly accepting your culture. There might be various reasons for it.
In the case of Kaavin, it is about how the Canadian kids might find him inferior to them, or him trying to fit in with the lot by acting more, well, Canadian. Sometimes it felt that Indian team members of the Visai Games took some cues from their personal experiences in Canada and channeled them into the game. I am sure anyone who has lived their whole life outside in a foreign country will relate and even connect with the story of the game.
Where it did resonate with me were the little interactions between the family. There are instances in the game where the actions of Venba, Paavalan, and Kaavin vividly reminded me of my childhood. Born in a military family, where my father was away from home during all of my performative years and all I had was my mother to rely on, Venba gets these small familial cues well.
Before I went to college, my family had this conversation about affording to send me to a college, struggling to make ends meet. That vividly reminded me of Venba and Paavalan’s struggle in Canada for a job to give Kaavin a better life. Similarly, Venba cooking food with her husband and son in chapter 2 was vividly similar to the numerous times I’ve cooked food with my parents. Or Paavalan getting frustrated with work reminds me of when my father went through the same struggles. These little things resonated with me throughout the one-and-a-half-hour experience, and I am sure Indian kids will appreciate these more than others.
The story feels vibrant even more when you listen to the brilliant soundtrack made by Alpha Something, along with talented Tamil artists. I wish I could have done this review in a video format. That would’ve allowed me to play the absolute bangers from the game in the background. Each song begins when you cook the food and have catchy vocals and beats. The developers even confirmed at one time that they took inspiration from the 90s-00s Tamil songs while creating the soundtrack, and it’s evident throughout the game. It celebrates and embraces the rich Tamil culture.
Overall, the strong points of Venba are the story and soundtrack. The numerous personal connection between the three characters feels nostalgic while reminding me of the hardships my parents and I went through. At the same time, if I have to criticize something, it has to be the plot. The second half of the story did not resonate with me to some extent. Listen, it’s not bad, but on a personal level, it became hard to care about it. That does not mean that it will be the same for others.
Become Venba and Create Mouth-Watering Food
Now onto the gameplay. Everything in Venba doesn’t concern you with cooking. Yes, it is a major aspect of the game. However, Venba, at its core, is a visual novel with mini-games between each chapter. It serves a similar gameplay experience to titles like Florence, where each chapter involves completing mini-games. Here, these mini-games are popular South Indian dishes.
A wise person once said that if you want to showcase your culture proudly, do it through art and food. Okay, I cannot confirm the statement is true, but Venba does that through the food. Midway through the chapters, we prepare South Indian food as mini-games. And the sheer accuracy of the process of creating them genuinely baffled me. Right from the sound of the masalas popping in hot oil to the steam sound, everything was accurate.
The sound designer did an amazing job making the cooking portion of the games as lively and realistic as possible. My mother even tried making idli through the recipe process shown in the game. These mini-games are simple and involve minimal effort on the player’s part.
Again, I can draw numerous parallels to games like Florence for gameplay. However, this approach helps create a title that’s accessible to everyone. I can attest that a friend of mine is interested in the game because of its easy nature. She is not a bonafide gamer but wants to try the game out. And this is what matters at the end of the day – making games accessible to everyone.
The rest of the time goes into reading through the story. Venba does not have any overarching storyline. Some dialogue choices unveil the backstory of the main character and her husband. But outside of that, no major decision-making is involved here, nor does the story change based on your choices. Again, pretty simple gameplay, where you pick and play through the mini-games. If there is another aspect that acts as a double-edged sword, it has to be the game’s runtime.
As of writing this review, I celebrated my birthday (thank you if you are wishing me in the comments) and became a 26-year-old person. And with age, I have slowly started yearning for shorter games. Games with 5-6 hours of solid gameplay. Venba hits that spot, except for the fact that the runtime is painfully short. The first playthrough of mine wrapped up within 130 minutes. Combined with two quick playthroughs, my playtime totaled just three hours. Still, I believe the game’s bite-sized experience will surely be appreciated by novice gamers.
To conclude, Venba’s gameplay is user-friendly and extremely welcoming to casual players. I won’t be surprised if the developers someday plan a mobile port because this game will work wonders on Android & iOS.
Venba: Performance (on PC & Steam Deck)
There is not much to talk about in terms of performance for this game. We tested it on a desktop PC and a Steam Deck. You can find the specifications of the desktop PC below:
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5600
- GPU: Nvidia RTX 4070Ti
- RAM: 16GB @ 3000 MHz
- Running on an SSD
Venba does not offer you any graphical adjustment options outside of adjusting the resolution. Frankly, it doesn’t need to. The game will practically run on any available system from the last fifteen years without any hassle. Venba opts for a pretty art style to portray the story. Sometimes, the game visually looks like something drawn with some crayons. Also, I cannot stress how cute each of the characters looks in the story. Whoever is responsible for designing them, I’d send them a thank-you email for making them as such.
I initially played this game on a Steam Deck in one sitting. As for its performance, I cranked the system TDP down to 3 watts and locked the frame rate to 60FPS. I finished the game within 130 minutes, and the handheld still had around 70% of the battery left (read our tips to extend Steam Deck battery life). As for the controls, everything was properly mapped on the buttons by default. I didn’t have to adjust or customize anything. It is a perfect game to play on your Steam Deck in the late evening if you want a relaxing experience.
Venba: Should You Buy It or Not?
Venba is a great title that I’d make anyone who has never touched a video game try it. It only takes a few hours of your time and manages to deliver a sweet story of an Indian Tamil family struggling to maintain their identity and stay connected to their roots in Canada. While some parts of the story I could not relate to, and the game length might feel too less for seasoned players, Venba beautifully encapsulates the little household problems of living in a foreign country.
If you are an Indian kid from the 80s-90s, you’ll relate to some of it. If you are a diaspora child, you might connect with the perils of Kaavin to some extent. You will appreciate the mouth-watering food you will cook and the mesmerizing soundtrack.
Venba is certainly not the next big blockbuster title. It isn’t even trying to be. Venba is a love letter to the Tamil culture and a beautiful tale of how an Indian family wants a better life for their kids and how you shouldn’t be ashamed of your culture and upbringing. Instead, you should embrace it wholeheartedly.
Get Venba on Steam ($14.99)
Venba is a narrative-driven visual novel that tells a sweet and at times relatable story of an Indian family in Canada. Spanning a few decades, the game features simple-to-pick gameplay and a mesmerizing soundtrack, while also managing to become a great celebration of Tamil culture in gaming.