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Americaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking (DS) artwork

Americaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking (DS) review

"Peak DS shovelware for your face that doesn't leave a bad taste"

The Nintendo DS sits at a monumental transition in how people interact with software: when smart phones went from niche to popular. In 2008, the iPhone provided a non-technical user with a web browser that was not only easy to use but a mobile experience that was actually enjoyable. The release of the iOS SDK and subsequent App Store for third-party software created a new market for mobile software.

Nearly four years early, the Nintendo DS was attempting its own revolution. Itís easy to look back on the DS--the second best selling handheld in history--and forget just how bold the thing was. Nintendo was languishing in the face of stiff competition and Sony, the rival that devoured the console market from Nintendoís plate, had announced that it was releasing its own handheld system. Nintendoís then-president Yamauchi famously said that with the DS Nintendo would either ďrise to heavenĒ or ďsink to hell.Ē At the time, Nintendo's gambit was truly bold.

Touch screens and mobile software are normal now, but in 2004 the only other game console with touch input was Tigerís disastrous This was not yet proven technology and far from the de facto input standard on mobile devices that it is today. Nintendo really was taking a massive gamble and helping to create a market (for casual games) that developers did not yet know existed.

We know how this story ends, but it cannot be overstated how radical the DS was. The DS proved very popular with people never thought to be traditional gamers thanks in large part to its intuitive input scheme. It was a system that could be owned by a college kid or your grandmother. Several years before the iPhone and the App Store, there wasnít ďan app for that,Ē but there might have been a DS game.

Shaberu! DS Oryōri Navi (trans: It Talks! DS Cooking Navigator) is one of those DS games that filled a software niche that today would probably be a mobile app. It is essentially an interactive cookbook with narration, voice controls, and meal planning tools. It spawned five sequels, including Cooking Guide: Canít Decide What to Eat (released as Personal Trainer: Cooking in North America). Americaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking is a North America exclusive sequel, developed by Nintendo.

On the surface, Letís Get Cooking looks like what we would pejoratively call shovelware. It has a licensed name, itís a sequel using essentially the same game engine as its predecessor, and itís decidedly not a game. New copies are $6 on Amazon but if you buy them in bulk it might be cheaper than blank DS cases. This is the Nintendo DS in its majesty.

If you dig a bit deeper, there's more here. Americaís Test Kitchen is a PBS cooking program and is actually a fairly well respected brand among home cooks. Their recipes are rigorously tested by both professional cooks and subscribers and they only publish recipes that are proven to deliver repeatable expected results. In a world where cooking blogs vomit long stories before showing some plagiarized recipe, ATK recipes provide explanations of why specific ingredients are used, instructions on making substitutions, and guidance on the specific techniques called for in the recipe.

It was actually an ATK magazine made me fall in love with cooking several years ago. I purchased an issue on impulse at the grocery store and it opened me up to a massive and wonderful world of vegetarian cuisine. I have a few ATK books now as well as a subscription to their mobile app.

Letís Get Cooking was not developed by ATK itself, but rather by Nintendo. Itís the same software that powered Personal Trainer: Cooking, but with 300 recipes licensed from ATK.

Starting out, youíll get a brief tutorial on how to use the app and create a profile. The menus are intuitive and surprisingly easy to navigate. The light elevator music, clear voice narration, and crisp sound effects make this software enjoyable and more game-like than Android cooking apps that Iíve used.

I found the recipe list a bit unwieldy at first, but there are a few ways to find recipes. For example, you can search by up to three ingredients, which is nice for ďwhat should I do with this fennel bulb I bought on impulse at the farmers marketĒ (thatís a thing other people do, right?). You can exclude ingredients, but that just causes them to show up in search results with a red icon next to them. I would have preferred to be able to fully hide excluded ingredients, but on the other hand that would hide recipes that could be made vegetarian by swapping meat stock with vegetable broth.

Americaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking (DS) imageAmericaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking (DS) image

While there are a few ways to find recipes, recipes with excluded ingredients are still displayed. How am I supposed to ride around on my vegetarian high horse with all this meat everywhere?

The recipe interface is the highlight here. Each recipe is clearly divided into ingredients and steps, which can be viewed before starting. Many steps hide greater detail, which can be glossed over or opened as needed. Youíll also get a list of tools the recipes needs, though I didnít find any recipes that required something out-of-the-ordinary. Individual ingredients also have a picture and description, which is helpful on the occasion that you arenít sure what an ingredient is, as well as details on the preparation method used.

Once you are ready to start cooking, you can set the DS down. A voice will read the steps to you and then wait for your command. A microphone icon appears on the screen, and if you say any words on the screen that are in quotation marks (like ďContinue!Ē) it will activate that button, letting you navigate the recipe without touching the DS with food-ladened hands. In my experience, the voice commands needed to be used in a quiet room and I needed to shout the word for it to be understood, and even then it only worked about half the time. I typically cook mise en place, so most of the work is done during prep time. The software does read out prep steps like the cooking instructions, but I didnít find this really helpful. I prefer to just get all the ingredients out and prep everything at once. I donít really need to fiddle with instructions for that.

Most of the recipes provided are quite simple and work well for this format. Even traditionally more involved dishes like risotto use a more hands-off method to avoid asking you to cook things in parallel with separate timings. Again, this didnít really fit my style as I like to plan ahead and prep a different part of the recipes while something else is cooking. It seems like this was a product designed to cook with kids rather than to be used as a general purpose cooking tool. You can set up individual profiles, and when you start a recipe you can assign different tasks to different cooks. It appears that you can connect multiple DSs so that everyone has their own screen to use and work independently (I presume through download play), but I donít have a second DS to try this out. It's still a neat touch and I haven't seen a modern cooking app provide a "multi-cook" feature like this.

Americaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking (DS) imageAmericaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking (DS) image

The recipe interface works very well. You can have different profiles set up and assign different steps to different people.

While itís no fault of the software, I found my DSiís screen a bit too uncomfortable to read at a distance in the kitchen. A DSi XL or a 2/3DS XL would probably mitigate that issue. The steps appear on the top screen, so you can bend it a bit so that it is visible while the DS is sitting on the counter, which is helpful, but I did not like having single steps visible at a time. Iím a fairly experienced home cook at this point, and like to review the recipe and check upcoming steps so that I can plan accordingly instead of being surprised. While it was fun to use, it didnít really enhance the cooking experience for me.

I donít think Iím the target audience for this software though. The cover depicts a white mother and daughter cooking together in a nice, brightly lit, clean kitchen, with the DS sitting on the counter. My kitchen is a train weckage. The 7 year old steals ingredients; the 15 month old comes in and screams while trying to climb my legs. Every drawer has a child lock on it, and even after breaking through them, I still find the bowl I was looking for is dirty. I donít have the time to futz around with the DS while cooking when life is already a distraction.

I attempted using this app with my 7 year old, but she seemed to find the novelty of having a talking game system in the kitchen distracting. She was more concerned with controlling ďthe cooking gameĒ and what it was doing than actually cooking. She does better using a kid-level cookbook (of which, ATK has several) instead.

Besides cooking, this app also helps with meal planning. You can mark recipes as ďtry itĒ, and even schedule it for specific days with specific cooks. If you donít have all the ingredients, you can add it to a digit grocery list and take the DS to the store with you. This feature works great, except that itís 2021 and Iím already carrying a smart phone around with this capability.

There are other reference features as well, including a dozen or so instructional videos on basic kitchen and knife skills. These are concise, clear, and well made, but are at a beginnerís level. They would be useful for children and even adults with less experience, but you arenít going to find pearls of little-known wisdom or anything like that.

Compared to other cooking software--including ATKís official Android app--Letís Get Cooking still feels impressive. The presentation, digital narration, and hands-free navigation are features the ATK Android app does not do, despite having more than a decade of technology advances. And because Letís Get Cooking doesnít need to fetch data from an online service like most cooking apps, it is quick and doesnít suffer from load times. Having two screens also allows Letís Get Cooking to display twice the information at once as modern cooking apps. Overall, itís probably the best cooking software Iíve used, albeit with a now-dated and limited recipe library.

If you donít cook much and like the idea of having a digital tutorial, Letís Get Cooking is actually a great option. Iíd recommend it over reading random cooking blogs, but personally I would still prefer to just use a cookbook. The recipes here still have ATKís high quality of being well organized, easy to follow, and difficult to mess up. And they usually taste good. I did end up copying a few recipes by hand onto paper so I could make them later (without the DS in the kitchen)

Regardless of my personal preferences, Letís Get Cooking is a well-made piece of software and provides a level of hand-holding and guidance that modern mobile cooking apps still do not rival. Itís also a great example of the DS-era boom that happened before smartphones took over our lives. The only thing this shovelware is guilty of is shoveling food in your face hole.

dagoss's avatar
Community review by dagoss (May 02, 2021)

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If you enjoyed this Americaís Test Kitchen: Letís Get Cooking review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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honestgamer posted May 02, 2021:

I think we might define "shovelware" differently. I don't see the label as appropriate for just any game that's licensed and/or casual. Shovelware is genuinely bad, low-effort software that fails to do anything to distinguish itself and warrant a recommendation to the consumer, except maybe show up in bargain bins for cause. In my mind, genre doesn't have anything to do with whether a game is actually shovelware.

I enjoyed your review immensely, aside from that minor quibble. It's difficult to imagine anyone else ever coming along now and giving the game a fairer shake, or reporting findings more engagingly and convincingly. I too bought this game, in a bargain bin, and I just haven't given it a shot myself. Like you, I have ready access to cookbooks but a cramped kitchen. I have a whole heavy shelf of some of the obvious cookbooks, in fact, but no America's Test Kitchen volumes.

Here's a sentence near the end of your review that you might want to look over again: "If you donít cooking much and like the idea of having a digital tutorial, Letís Get Cooking is actually a great option."

Thanks for contributing this excellent review and helping expand the site's quality coverage beyond the expected.
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dagoss posted May 03, 2021:

Thanks! I was actually inspired by your recent Animal Crossing Clock review to look for something weird to review.

I think this game looks like shovelware, but probably isn't, so maybe I didn't convey that properly. I think if you just showed the cover to random people and asked "is this shovelware?" you'd probably get a few "yes"s. This is also a weird title that's high quality but low effort (it's basically the same as Personal Trainer: Cooking but with different recipes swapped in).

I have yet to try an ATK recipes and end up with something truly bad or way off kilter. There's one exception: a tofu and mustard green soup. I was not aware that mustard greens are spicy and tofu is already a hard sell to my family. Anyway, there's a black skull drawn over that recipe now, as a warning if anyone finds the book after I'm gone.
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dagoss posted May 03, 2021:

(Side question: what's with the external link in paragraph 6 not working. It's not critical to the review, but still not sure why it won't work.)
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honestgamer posted May 03, 2021:

I fixed it for you. It looks like you probably drafted your review in Microsoft Word, which by default includes "smart quotes" that are the bane of virtually every writer's existence. There is nothing "smart" about them, and their sole purpose seems to be to confound web sites. There is a way to disable them, but Microsoft has made it fairly convoluted and changes it all the time in an apparent attempt to prevent people from being able to reliably rid themselves of that particular menace. Anyway, I just updated your review to include regular quotes instead, which made everything work.
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dagoss posted May 11, 2021:

I went all in on this game now. On Mother's day, I made breakfast for everyone using the stuffed french toast recipe I found in it. Turned out great, despite my misgivings about using water in the "custard." I did copy the recipe out of the DS and onto a piece of paper rather than dealing with the DS in the kitchen.

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