Cooking Mama (DS) review
"All that Cooking Mama has to offer is cooking, cooking, and more routine cooking. The only real goal is to get perfect 100’s, but even then, the reward is yet another dish that utilizes the same cooking techniques and a little gold medal."
Becoming a chef was never one of my potential career choices. The only signature meal under my belt is affectionately called “Ghetto Slop.” Take two cups of rice, hot sauce, anything you can find in the fridge, and voila, you have dinner for the next week. I have a very tolerant girlfriend. I may never be a wiz in the kitchen, but at least now I can pretend to be. With Cooking Mama, I can slice, chop, and mix my way to that perfect digital dish, without the hassles of burns, grease fires, and blaring smoke detectors. The only question is, what am I going to do with all this food?
Mama, a cute but disturbingly featureless woman, will be your guide. Simply select a dish and she will walk you through the preparations step by step. With over a dozen items on the menu to choose from right away, you may be tempted to dive into one of the more interesting dishes like fried octopus dumplings, but it’s best to start with the basics. Boiled rice and miso soup may not be that interesting, but simple techniques like measuring rice, chopping vegetables, and even setting the stove heat lay down the techniques needed for later. Follow Mama’s exact directions in the time allotted and her eyes sparkle with joy as she presents you with a new dish to create. Pretty soon, you’ll be on your way to folding dumplings, frying vegetables, and stuffing peppers in one of 76 total dishes.
Cooking Mama deserves credit as one of the games to make the best use of the DS’s touchscreen. Most games either feel like their touchscreen controls are tacked on, or they use the touchscreen to do things that could be done more easily with traditional controls. With Cooking Mama, every action is performed with the stylus in hand. After slicing up some chicken, straining noodles, and stuffing spring rolls, you’ll realize that Cooking Mama simply could not be played any other way. Unfortunately, the controls are not always as exact as they need to be. On more than one occasion I found myself dropping stuffed peppers on the ground, even though my stylus never left the screen. Then there are the potatoes. In real life, you would have an easier time peeling a potato with a plastic spoon.
The actual creation of the dishes is broken down into steps, such as slicing the vegetables, kneading the dough, and spreading the sauce when making a pizza. Every step is graded and added for a final score when the meal is ready, with a top score of 100 awarding you a little gold medal for your menu. Not to worry though, since even the most incompetent chefs will find that the new dishes are unlocked rather easily. Some of them even appear in mid-preparation, allowing you to change that miso soup into pork and vegetable soup. There is also an option to combine dishes into your own unique creation. Curry seasoned spaghetti anyone? If your skills aren’t quite up to par, there is even the option to practice the myriad of cooking techniques without running through the recipes. Of course, this brings up another good question. Since the recipes are so easily unlocked, and you can perform all the cooking techniques at your convenience, what exactly is the point of Cooking Mama?
The concept, gameplay, and even the charmingly simplistic graphics are so unique that it saddens me to think of what Cooking Mama could have been. It could have been a competitive game, pitting your skills against others to woo a panel of judges. Like Diner Dash, it could have been a game of strategy, requiring you to satisfy the different needs of dinner guests. Perhaps a drama would be interesting, following your character’s progression through the ranks of the kitchen. All that Cooking Mama has to offer is cooking, cooking, and more routine cooking. The only real goal is to get perfect 100’s, but even then, the reward is yet another dish that utilizes the same cooking techniques and a little gold medal. Remember the gold-star stickers from elementary school? Yeah, those were real exciting.
Cooking Mama may have a lot of dishes to offer, but there is only about twenty minutes of actual gameplay. It’ll take a lot longer than that to make all 76 dishes, but it’s the moment when you realize how pointlessly methodical the game is. Does it really matter that you can make a crazy sandwich with fried octopus when the preparation involves the same techniques as a plate of spicy noodles? More than anything, Cooking Mama needs to offer a sense of satisfaction and a compelling reason to make all of the different dishes. Even offering the real recipes would have been enough for many people. I may not be a chef, but at least when I cook I get the pleasure of eating my food.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (September 30, 2006)
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