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“We eat first with our eyes,” goes the famous culinary adage, commonly attributed to first-century Roman cook Apicius. Nour: Play With Your Food, a unique and experimental food game, takes this idea to heart, offering a tasting menu of more than 20 dishes that look good enough to eat — except, of course, you can’t. Instead, you must be content with poking, prodding and playing with these pristine virtual meals, a process that may conjure the strangest of sensations: phantom taste.
This is a confounding game in a number of ways. Nour forgoes traditional video game tropes such as enemies, objectives and points, instead offering mouthwatering scenes in miniature — a bowl of ramen, a tray of popcorn, a plastic cup filled with bubble tea. Pressing buttons on your controller causes appetising objects to tumble from the sky. You’re given what the games calls “spells” — gravity, scale, fire, dancing and more — which can be used to manipulate the dish in front of you. All of a sudden, giant pork chops are pulsing to the beat of the game’s generative hyperpop score while floating above the bowl of ramen in a milky-way-esque swirl of noodles. We’re a long way from TV cooking shows.
Further surprises reveal themselves through this suite of interactions, and sometimes without you even realising how. A jellyfish often shows up, moving curiously through your culinary creations. At one point, sticky Japanese rice turns green to look like soft Irish grass, and a rainbow stretches above while tiny cows pad through it. Aside from the enjoyment of such charming absurdity, the lack of traditional tropes also inspires a different way of looking. At various moments, you might simply gaze (or perhaps graze) upon the beautifully rendered textures, appreciating the aesthetic quality of the nosh, just as you would in a restaurant. Once you’ve had enough of a dish, you simply zoom out to return to the dinner table, ready to try another.
Nour is modern, but its experimental sensibility harks back to the 1990s and 2000s era of the PlayStation 1 and 2, whose limited rosters included far-out games such as Jumping Flash!, Vib-Ribbon and Katamari Damacy. Especially palpable here is the spirit of Katamari Damacy designer Keita Takahashi, whose games, including Noby Noby Boy and Wattam, have become weirder and more free-form over the years yet never lost their playful, comedic touch. Nour too works best if you’re able to find your inner child, to approach food as if experiencing it for the first time, revelling in the resulting mess and chaos.
The game is also the product of an age in which our screens are filled with all manner of so-called “food porn”, often embellished by Photoshop. However, it is less fetishistic and more fulfilling than scrolling through endless snaps of food on Instagram. In fact, it feels nourishing: part chic toy, part foodie sandbox, part interactive art, Nour is an elegant and silly proposition that tickles the brain, if not the taste buds.
Out now on PC and PlayStation 5