Release Date: Q4 2006
Cooking Mama is poised to take over the US in a whirlwind of Japanese-influenced culinary awesomeness. This title, a hit in Japan, is quite possibly the first in a new genre of cooking games, being followed up later this year, of course, by Devil May Cook and World of Foodcraft.
All kidding aside, Cooking Mama features over 76 real recipes for Japanese dishes such as yakitori (meat and veggie skewers) and okonomiyaki (a kind of Japanese pancake). The game is laid out as a series of mini-games which divide up the task of preparing each dish into a fun short exercise you perform with the stylus. The top screen of the DS provides information about what you should do, and the bottom screen shows your work area, where you can use the stylus as a sort of kitchen super-tool to do each preparation.
For example, to cook yakitori, you might first do a mini-game where you need to cut a chicken breast into chunks within a certain time limit. Next, you need to peel and slice some vegetables. After that, you play a memory-matching game to place the various pieces onto skewers, and then a whack-a-mole type of game, where you wave fans at a grill to keep the skewers cooking evenly.
Each step of the process is scored independently, and your total score for the dish is based upon how well you did at each stage. The end goal is to please your "Mama" and prepare each dish better than even she could have done - a harder task than it may seem. The game is easy to learn, and while it may not be all that hard to master, the process would at least be fun and possibly educational as well.
Cooking Mama is controlled entirely through using the stylus on the touch-screen. Most of the preparation mini-games are fairly simple and involve moving the stylus in circles or tapping certain points on the screen - to fold gyoza wraps, for example. I felt that this system worked fine for the scope of this game. The freedom of using the stylus for everything keeps things simple and removes some of the abstraction that would occur if you were using the buttons and d-pad as well.
To me, this felt a lot like some sort of culinary Brain Age. While the game is obviously not very deep, it does manage to be pretty entertaining, and I guarantee it's something different from anything you've ever played before.
The graphics are pretty cartoony, but that's to be expected from a game being brought over from Japan. I thought it was rather a cute presentation overall, with a beaming "Mama" when you do something right and a scary looking flaming-eyes "Mama" when you screw up. She takes pity and does the tasks for you if you mess up, although you'll lose out on some points for making that particular dish.
Cooking Mama is cute, fun, and very different. While it may not make you a whiz in the kitchen, a person might be inspired to actually try cooking some of these dishes (they are real, after all), although I would suggest that you not try to cut chicken with a stylus. If Brain Age feeds the mind, Cooking Mama may well feed the stomach. Bon appetit!
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