Nour wants you to play with your food

11.16.2023
By Sarah Thwaites, Contributor

Sitting at the dinner table with my feet swinging, I remember braiding spaghetti tendrils like they were strands of hair and making mashed potato volcanoes overflowing with gravy magma. As my feet began to touch the ground, though, my relationship with food changed, leaning toward consumption rather than silliness. Nour: Play with Your Food, from developer Terrifying Jellyfish, compels players to tap into the chaos we embraced during our childhoods, with lasting effects once the credits roll.

An experimental food art game, you’ll take a seat at a table full of mystery dishes rotating on a marbled Lazy Susan. Upon selecting a dish, you’re drafted into a nonsensical pocket dimension of culinary creativity with few rules and abundant ingredients. You can create a tower of burger patties until they reach the stratosphere, or use a meat grinder to turn cookies and doughnuts into satisfying tubular deconstructions; but those are just my creations—it’s really up to you and your imagination.

Food comprehension can become intertwined with nutritional value and convenience as we age, and it’s frighteningly easy to forget about the feelings and gratification that tactile eating can give us. Nour may present itself as a viral-friendly food factory, but it’s also a surprisingly cathartic rhythm game with anti-capitalist undertones. 
 

You are what you eat 


Nour’s opening scene provokes a ponderous mission statement: What is it that actually makes us hungry? Is it the color of food, the texture, or the association with a memory, like the smell of our grandma’s cooking? It doesn’t pretend to know the answer but prods you to investigate the concept across its virtual dioramas, where you don’t have to worry about getting the mop out afterwards. 
Nour Screenshot 03
To help you come to an understanding, Nour presents the antithesis of its message in Neofoods Inc. This nondescript corporate entity in the game’s universe creates Default Flavor cubes en masse. These indescribable globs of suspicious origin seek to fulfill your basic needs without conjuring any philosophical questions, the ultimate product of a bland authoritarian institution that you are driven to rebel against. 

Far away from a mundane world of manufactured expectations somewhat familiar to our own, Nour’s delectable food science labs enable me to explore how conformist contemporary food practices can be. A playful approach—even within virtual confines—can reforge the connection with our imaginative inner child. 

Like the paintery playground of Chicory: A Colorful Tale—where you coat the hue-void pages of an interactive coloring book—Nour asks you to enliven its world with your own creativity. Both expand the genre of games-as-canvas, a growing niche that encourages players to connect with their imaginations, whether they’re a plucky pup with a paintbrush or an omnipotent force of food-related freedom. 

You’ve got to break a few eggs


There’s an ultra-polished, uncanny valley quality to the photogrammetry-esque food in Nour that begs to be prodded and poked at. Cosplaying as an upscale Fisher-Price food set, each meal summons the sensation that a parent could whip around the corner at any time and tell you off for messing with it. It’s this curious consideration that adds to the pleasure of making such a delightful mess. 

Leaning into the absurd, Nour’s supernatural toolset puts the power of a gravity well or a raging fire into your hands, turning plates into abstract art projects. Meanwhile, your grounded culinary kit is your metronome—hammer noodles or slice sushi to the beat, and you feed into a magical fuel tank that can warp your surroundings to summon unique events, like a jellyfish disco in a ramen bowl. The high-tech Bop-It aspect of Nour reminded me of Tetris Effect: Connected, which invites similar synaesthetic playfulness as you twirl and place tetrominoes to the rhythm and are rewarded with dynamically changing scenes and haptic feedback.
Nour Toaster Fire
The deeper you fall into Nour’s clutches, the easier it is to find your younger self in the reflection of its tasting menu soups and chrome toasters. The broad lack of direction allows your mind to wander on back to the salad days of youth, when making castles out of your breakfast waffles was a noble pursuit and not a financial consideration. It’s like loosening the tie around your neck after a long workday—and blowtorching a jiggly egg. Logic and expectations fly out the open window, and memories come flooding back in. 

Check, please 


It’s acceptable (encouraged, even) to visit IKEA and play house in a series of imaginary flat-pack rooms. Someone is bound to make a joke about turning the oven on or going to the toilet. Nour is an extension of this innate spirit we share to engage with our playful side when things get a little too serious. True to Nour’s status as a food simulator, you can meticulously mix the perfect cocktail, dress it with edible flowers, and take a dreamy, Insta-friendly shot to share. Chances are, though, it’s going to be a sickly mix of syrup and scaled-up pulsating berries, eventually—and that’s kind of the point.  

Like any good food experience, Nour comes with a bill at the end once you’ve dressed your fine plate. Continuing its commentary on the culture of consumption, it’s a tongue-in-cheek tally for every item you’ve thrown, chopped, singed, smashed, and dropped. My total came in at a reasonable 8,608.83 (currency not established), and I felt compelled to commit to the bit with a 500% tip.

I might not be batting ingredients around my real-life kitchen and ruining appliances like a sugar-wild six-year-old, but I have become a little more thoughtful with my cooking after Nour. I’m thinking more about what draws me to my favorite meals, and how I can slow down enough while making them to appreciate the smells, colors, and textures on show.