"Curse you, Bobby Flay! No disrespect to the other illustrious Iron Chefs of America. Mario Batali is a preeminent expert on authentic Italian cuisine. Cat Cora's distinctive style originates from her Greek and Southern roots. Masuharu Morimoto is a master of all things Japanese, having held his position of Iron Chef in that country's version of the show as well. And Michael Symon, well, he's too new to be sorely missed. But Chef Flay appears first in this pantheon of culinary greatness. H..."
Curse you, Bobby Flay! No disrespect to the other illustrious Iron Chefs of America. Mario Batali is a preeminent expert on authentic Italian cuisine. Cat Cora's distinctive style originates from her Greek and Southern roots. Masuharu Morimoto is a master of all things Japanese, having held his position of Iron Chef in that country's version of the show as well. And Michael Symon, well, he's too new to be sorely missed. But Chef Flay appears first in this pantheon of culinary greatness. He's participated in the most battles of anyone through the opening seasons of the show. So his absence in Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine is particularly hard to swallow.
In honor of Bobby's disappearing act, I hoped the first secret ingredient would be chicken. I should've known The Chairman wouldn't choose such a mundane food. Instead, he reveals zucchini, and the first step of battle is selecting a menu. There are up to nine preset dishes, but you pick a maximum of six to prepare. Unfortunately, there's too much crossover between the fifteen possible featured ingredients; apparently lasagna is tasty when filled with boar, bell peppers, or lobster. Once the plan is set, you charge into the kitchen to chop, slice, boil, fry, grind, pour, carve, mix, dip, saute, grill, and grate. And chop. And chop. And chop. Many of the dishes start with the same preparatory steps, so you'll inevitably perform the same operation several turns in a row. Each technique uses a particular Wiimote movement: pointing, tracing, swiping, or rotation. They're meant to be completed in a matter of seconds, but a sequence of vigorous shaking (like chopping requires), can leave you a little fatigued.
Here are the problems with the setup. The show is symphony of organized chaos. Competitors have one hour to plate dishes that must include a specified ingredient. The game, though, is too organized. It interleaves the steps of your menu in a preset order, and then presents each one as a discrete element. Moreover, the clock never comes into play. No matter how many dishes you prepare, there's always one minute remaining as the final plate goes down. I want to struggle with time management. I want to feel like I'm trying to do a dozen things at once. It needs that frenetic energy.
And I shouldn't be able to serve three different varieties of soup and receive high marks. Yet the judges don't take texture and contrast into account. Instead, the panel of three is there solely for entertainment value. They only comment on two dishes, and will always insult the first, even if it earns perfect marks later. Most of the rotating guests are caricatures of stereotypical Hollywood types. The one permanent fixture has an attitude modeled after real-life judge Jeffrey Steingarten, an acerbic food critic, and that reveals the intention to present an extremely negative tone.
Of course, including the spirit of that curmudgeon is just part of presenting the total Iron Chef America experience. The single-player career mode is actually a ladder tournament, where you guide an unknown challenger (you can choose male or female) to the top of the heap. The lower rungs are populated by fictional chefs with comical appearances; naturally, the French guy sports a villainous moustache. It culminates in battles with Cora, Matsumoto, and Batali (complete with shorts and orange clogs). It's The Chairman, though, who shines. The game doesn't have fancy animation; in fact, the characters' lips don't even move with the voiceovers. Instead, it uses stop-motion, dramatic stills and a stirring score, and those play the The Chairman's strengths: his exaggerated inflection and theatrical timing. Alton Brown has a large presence as host, too. He's constantly chattering away with interesting tidbits of information during your routine responsibilities.
It's not enough. Yes, I understand the developers' motive. They put in the necessary effort to make a product that will meet sales projections. I just wish it were a better game. There are plenty of cooking simulations out there that provide a generic experience. Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine has a specific, successful formula at its disposal, so it should reign over all the others. Instead, it's just as rote and robotic. It needs to elicit input from the player to build somewhat unique dishes, rather than just letting them select the final garnish (which doesn't matter anyway). While it captures the overall appearance of the show, it ignores the most important parts of the recipe, and the final product suffers for it.
Community review by woodhouse (February 15, 2009)
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