Circus Reviews - Papa's Taco Mia

Back in the day, when I was a wee lass procrastinating in high school, there was a website called Coolmath Games. It was one of the few gaming websites that wasn't blocked by the overly eager spam filters that come preprogrammed with every high school, and thus it was one of the few ways to occupy one's spare time once that day's computer-related classwork was finished. There are actually quite a few games I remember fondly from that website, most of which are slightly smaller versions of games licensed from outside developers, and one of which I'd like to dissect for you today.

Papa's Taco Mia is one of the many entries in the Papa's Gameria series developed by Flipline Studios. Like most of them, it is a time management cooking game with minimal plot. It can pretty much be summed up thusly: You are either Mitch or Maggie, and for some reason you're running a taco restaurant entirely by yourself, which is luckily not too hard because on average you get around eight customers a day and make a weekly wage on top of being paid tons of tips. It's basically what they used to try and convince us the American Dream was.

You divide each day of gameplay among three different stations: the order station, where you take orders and serve finished tacos, the grill station, where you cook and prep the meat, and the build station, where you add toppings. Once you complete a taco and serve it to the customer, they will grade you based on how fast and accurate you were in each station; the happier they are, the more money your tip jar gets to eat and the more customer points you get towards your rank. At the end of the day, you're then graded on how well you did overall. As your rank increases, you'll gradually unlock new customers, new toppings, and new meats. You also get to spend your tip money on upgrades for your shop (like posters to improve waiting scores or extra burners to cook more meat at once), since you apparently really are running everything entirely by yourself.

The entire series uses the same large set of revolving characters, and you don't really get to know anyone beyond their appearance and their order, but there's enough variety to at least keep things visually appealing. Some of the characters look unique enough to get you wondering, like wildly costumed Xandra or the musical family of the Romano Quartet. There's actually a sizeable amount of lore behind the characters; it's just that you have to look most of it up. I kind of wish more of it were included in the game, but I haven't explored every game thoroughly or anything, so it's possible that other entries in the series have a bit more of the inside info.

Of the Papa's games that I've tried thus far, Taco Mia remains my favorite. It introduces the mechanics well and slowly increases the challenge over time, ensuring that things never get too frustrating. There are a bunch of achievements to unlock, a bunch of characters to see, and a bunch of upgrades to buy for your shop, and all of the above will keep you busy for a good long while. It never gets very deep, and I wish that the backstory of the customers somehow played in a little more, but as a time waster it works wonders.

If I had to criticize something, it would probably be the way things fall off once you purchase every shop upgrade. Since you no longer have anything to spend your money on, you're just forced to watch it accumulate, and while you still have your rank to finish, it doesn't feel quite as rewarding as saving up your money to buy a literal crown to wear. The last few achievements are kind of a grind, too, particularly the one involving getting gold stars for all customers, and your only reward for getting an achievement is more money. That kind of thing is par for the course with games like these, I suppose, and if you get bored of making tacos, then there's always another restaurant you could go pick up on.

So I don't know if I can call Papa's Taco Mia a great game, necessarily, but it does its job and it's excellent at occupying your time while there are still shop upgrades to purchase. And it's actually kind of fun to make tacos for the adoration of colorful characters. If only pleasing people in food service were this easy in real life...

Papa's Taco Mia is available to play for free on the Flipline Studios website, and licensed version of it are available on numerous websites, including Coolmath Games. An HD remake for tablets is available on the App Store and the Google Play store, and a mobile remake called Papa's Taco Mia To Go is also available on the App Store and the Google Play store. (Please note that both remakes cost money and contain different mechanics than the desktop version.)

Final verdict: Although the inevitable achievement of getting all the upgrades eventually forces a plateau, Papa's Taco Mia is a fun balance of cooking and time management mechanics that excels as a colorful and engaging time waster while it lasts.

Papa's Taco Mia is developed and published by Flipline Studios. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

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