Bento boxes are a popular Japanese lunchtime meal, comprising of small portions of varying foods all neatly packed into a small container. It’s a puzzle in itself trying to make sure all your food stuffs are in there whilst not having anything overflowing, so it makes perfect sense for that premise to be the basis for a cutesy puzzle game on the Nintendo Switch.
It also tells the charming tale of a cat growing up and their mother.
inbento on Switch tasks players with cramming food cubes into small boxes, much like bento preparation in real-life. There are other options when it comes to fitting everything in; new methods are introduced gradually including cut, copy, fill, switch and others. Reminder: this is a bento box and not a PC despite those inputs. Ingredients can be layered on top of each other but when you run out of shapes and methods, if the top layer doesn’t look like the finished picture to the right-hand side, you have gone wrong. You can fully restart the level by using the Y button but pressing the B button also removes the last piece you placed in the box and can be a useful technique in later levels where you are having to layer ingredients.
Levels are split into groups of nine and after completing a series you are awarded a couple of photographs that help progress the story. These work by adding depth if you move the Switch around slightly in handheld mode.
In total there are 14 blocks of levels with a total of 127 bento boxes to fill. A quick bit of maths will tell you that nine doesn’t fit into 127 perfectly, and you’d be right; there is a hidden 127th level in the game if you manage to complete all 126 before it. This too offers a photograph for completion that neatly brings the story to its conclusion.
In that story, you follow the life of a cat, from a young kitten completely reliant on their mother to their rebellious teenage years wearing a spiked collar and not eating their bento boxes, to moving out and finding a job, but then returning home to his mother with the greatest gift of all (Spoiler: it isn’t another bento box). Whilst there are no words or interactions between characters in these photos, they are brimming with story. It is immediately obvious what is happening in these images despite the lack of any words and are a perfect reward for completing a block of puzzles.
These photos can also be viewed in the main menu in sequence to view them as a complete story. Also in the main menu is a level select option of sorts; you have access to the next three puzzles at all times which is useful if you are particularly stuck on one and in doing so, doesn’t completely halt your progress.
The main menu is also designed like a notepad-come-cookbook with tabs at the top for different styles of recipes, or in this case the various options. Its another cute little feature.
And yet despite their cutesy appearance of the puzzles, there is a steep difficulty curve. Certain puzzles with have you wracking your brain for long periods as you try and figure out where all your peppers are coming from, and how to remove that solitary egg. Even though the food is simply animated as a square, it is very obvious what it is thanks to some great design work. There are your bento staples such as salmon, tuna, rice, edamame beans and salad that are all instantly recognisable.
Sadly, it is during these tricky levels you will notice the music. For the most part it is unobtrusive enough that you may not even notice it, but when stuck on a particularly nasty level the tinkling away of piano keys will soon grate. It isn’t necessarily bad, but what is there plays on a very short loop, and before long you realise how long you have been staring at the same empty bento box still no clearer how to complete the puzzle.
Being available on mobiles as well as Switch, full touch control is offered as well as the standard Joy-Con controls.
inbento on the Nintendo Switch is a great fit because it has a real pick up and play feel to it. Everything about this game is designed to relax and calm you, which sounds counter intuitive for a tricky puzzle game, but it is a relaxing experience. The pastel colour pallete and inoffensive music allow you to drift away for a short period of time. This won’t be a game you can fill hours and hours with: in fact, even with me looking back through the photos once I had completed the game I still had managed everything in less than four hours; but they were a peaceful four hours that I enjoyed. And for less than the price of an actual bento box at £4.49, you can’t say fairer than that.
Release date: March 2020
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)
Massive thanks to: 7Levels