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Cooking Mama 3: Shop & Chop (DS) artwork

Cooking Mama 3: Shop & Chop (DS) review


"Many of the steps that you encounter while preparing new recipes have also been switched up a bit in an effort to make that aspect of the game more robust. Some of these work out for the better and recall earlier diversions, such as when you must chop a carrot or potato into small bits. Others aren't familiar to me but work well anyway, such as when the game asks the player to circle eyes on old potatoes to remove them. Then come the zany additions, like when you find yourself catching falling marshmallows on a skewer while avoiding dog bones. I like a bit of zaniness in my games or I wouldn't be playing Cooking Mama in the first place, but some of the stuff included here still had me scratching my head."



Cooking Mama games have been amusing casual gamers for awhile now, appearing first on the DS, then on Wii and then maintaining a healthy release schedule on both platforms. The series was born on the DS, though, and that's where it always will feel the most natural for me.

Released this last October, Cooking Mama 3: Shop & Chop is the newest portable iteration in the series. For me, it may also be the last one that I play. While early installments made it fun to step into a virtual kitchen and prepare crazy dishes at a breakneck pace, the sequels have focused so much on expanding the experience that they've begun to step away from the core design principles that attracted me to the franchise in the first place. In place of the streamlined setup, recipes and activities that made everything seem so fresh and exciting a few years ago, gamers are being presented with a host of extra modes and silly activities that generally add nothing of note to the formula. As a player, I feel like I'm being fed a bunch of appetizers as a stalling tactic while the chefs in the back try to find a nice way to tell me that there's no main course to be found.

A quick look at the starting menu screen makes the unfortunate evolution apparent. There are nine options. One of those is actually the "Options" screen, but the others lead to game modes. In addition to fixing a simple meal, you can do things like write in a diary, "get fancy" and even go shopping for food. Most of the new modes just feel like a new way to make you do the same things that you always have, which in my opinion doesn't do a lot to recommend their existence, but shopping is an important addition. You probably guessed that much from the game's title.

In the new shopping mode, you'll head into a supermarket. Action is viewed from an overhead perspective. Icons on-screen represent the food that you've come to gather. You can click to plant a flag along the screen and Mama will head in that direction, but along the way you need to avoid running into annoying people who try to get you to sample their wares (a mini-game wherein you tap at falling items to chow them down) or to buy at bargain prices (another mini-game where you tap at falling items to add them to your cart). There's quite the crowd to navigate, including other shoppers that trigger still more mini-games, so you'll likely wind up playing a lot of games as you work your way through several the various shopping destinations.

The shopping mode is a nice enough diversion, but the main food preparation modes (including the returning option to cook for friends) still serve as a key part of the experience. Many of the steps that you encounter while preparing new recipes have also been switched up a bit in an effort to make that aspect of the game more robust. Some of these work out for the better and recall earlier diversions, such as when you must chop a carrot or potato into small bits. Others aren't familiar to me but work well anyway, such as when the game asks the player to circle eyes on old potatoes to remove them. Then come the zany additions, like when you find yourself catching falling marshmallows on a skewer while avoiding dog bones. I like a bit of zaniness in my games or I wouldn't be playing Cooking Mama in the first place, but some of the stuff included here still had me scratching my head.

With the new activities and new steps, there also comes occasional confusion of a less welcome variety. Many of the recipes that you must now prepare consist of far too many steps. You're rated at every point along the way and your overall average is tallied at the end. What that means is that you could be going along fine, cooking like a champ, then come across something unfamiliar and have no idea what you're even supposed to be doing. Sometimes you can fumble your way through because the timer gives you time to experiment. In other instances, you'll just have to put up with a bad score on that segment, one that may drop your ranking enough that you receive a silver medal (or worse) for the overall recipe instead of a gold one. Going back through to try again--knowing that you still haven't figured out what you were even supposed to be doing on one or two steps and may mess up again in the same way without learning anything--is not my idea of fun.

As an example, there's one step in a recipe where you're supposed to season some stew and gain Mama's approval. A bubbling pot appears on-screen, with your stew mostly prepared thanks to previous steps. You'll see indicators of a spoon, along with several seasonings that each have a triangle positioned over them. Don't add too much of any ingredient, the game warns you. What you're supposed to figure out from those general instructions is that tapping each ingredient adds a splash to the stew. That's easy enough, but then things get complicated. After making a few additions that have no visible effect on-screen, you are supposed to let Mama taste the stew by dipping your spoon into the mixture. Before she'll try any, though, you need to blow into the system's microphone to cool off the spoonful (something that the game never tells you outright). When Mama tastes your creation, some of the triangles over various ingredients may turn to squares, which means that you're making progress. You want them to become circles, another thing that the game doesn't tell you.

There are a lot of things that the game chooses not to tell you along the way, actually, and the example above is one of the less obtuse activities that you'll encounter in the game. Another one features a blender with switches that you need to toggle between as you spread batter around a bowl and try to divine the reason behind your green meter's failure to fill. I still haven't figured out what I'm doing wrong on that one.

Mama doesn't provide much help, either. She mostly just sits around on the top screen, smiling. When you complete a step to her liking, she'll say "Wow, even better than Mama" in the same heavy accent that she's been using for years. When you fail, she'll assure you that "It's okay, Mama will help you" with her charming Engrish. That much hasn't changed, at least, but it reminds me of the many times I've heard those words from her while playing a more engaging game.

In the end, that's my real problem with Cooking Mama 3: Shop & Chop. I've played better games in the franchise, games that are still readily available on store shelves and still a great deal of fun. This third installment isn't bad, but the franchise is showing its age and the new ideas implemented here are mere delaying tactics. Newcomers will likely have a great time because the core principles are still here and still worth trying, but more experienced digital chefs should probably find something else to do. The desert that we were waiting for has already come and gone. Somewhere along the line, we must have missed it.

Rating: 7/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 03, 2010)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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CoarseDragon posted January 06, 2010:

Overall very good review. You told me everything I needed to know about the game and your analogies were very good. I have not played this so I may be wrong but you seemed a bit harsh. Could it be that your previous experience with Cooking Mama skewed your view?
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honestgamer posted January 06, 2010:

I'm certain that my previous experience with the series impacted my view on the newest one. My previous experience with the games showed me that the franchise can do several things well and provide an excellent experience, one that I've seen other gamers also remark upon. This newest installment makes a few attempts to distance itself from some of those things and doesn't bring anything better to the table. It can be difficult to properly balance the negative with the positive, and I hope that I didn't drop the ball in this case. It sounds like I did at least cover what I should have and (hopefully) provided enough information that you as a reader can say "Hmm, I might want to check that out because I might like it more than he did" or "After hearing that, I'm not as sure that this game is as good for me as the earlier ones might be."
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CoarseDragon posted January 06, 2010:

After reading your review I am more inclinded to try Cooking Mama II rather than Cooking Mama III even though you gave it a 7/10. I seemed (just a guess) you just had more fun with the previous installment. I'm OK with that too as it gives me a direction to pursue and that is all you can ask of a review.

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