Publisher: Majesco Games
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Cooking Mama: Cook Off screws with my brain in the worst way, and it frustrates me.
See, maybe I'm crazy, but if I'm going to expend real hand and arm energy toward the cooking process, then I expect to be able to have something to eat afterwards. This is the whole point of cooking, is it not? Yes, it's fun in a creative sort of way, and looking at your creation for a couple of minutes gives you a small sense of accomplishment, but half the joy of cooking is in the payoff — the sights, the smells, the feel of the ingredients in your hands, the rise in kitchen environment temperature. Oh, and let's not forget eating the great-tasting food that you've just produced that goes toward nourishing your body so that it does not die.
This game gives you none of that, and is, therefore, a horrible, horrible tease. You get all of the work, and none of the yummy. In place of the yummy, you get to look at barely convincing cartoon renditions of food while some overly cheery lunch lady speaks to you in jilted Engrish. Is this some kind of sick joke? My stomach is not amused.
I suppose that the havoc that Mama wreaks on my gastric emotions is a testament to how well this game sometimes does its job. It's not perfect, but people who've always dreamed of being on Iron Chef can get their start here, without running the risk of burning down their kitchens.
As with most Wii mini-game collections, the object of Cooking Mama is simple, all told. You're given the choice of a large variety of recipes around the world. From popcorn to hotdogs, from lasagna to custard, to lobster and sushi, if you've vaguely heard of it, odds are it's here to be made right off the bat, or is an unlockable dish. There's an incredible amount of variety here, and it's to be appreciated.
One should be warned, though, that Mama will have you make everything from scratch, and often with far more details than you're used to. Surely you know how to make scrambled eggs, right? Not Mama's way, you don't! Prepare to add milk, cream, and, yes, even crab to those mundane morning breakfast proceedings, and then stir the whole thing in a frying pan as if it were a cake mix, while stealthily adding seasoning the entire time! Nothing's instant here, either — get ready to use extracts and spices of various kinds. Mixes would take away from gameplay options, you see.
All of this ingredient mixing and manipulation is handled by Wiimote-gesture mini-games. You'll mimic real, intense chopping action by moving the Wiimote up and down, or stir concoctions with real and powerful circular stirring motions. Pouring, mashing, cutting, opening cans — it's all here, and the motions are all what you would expect them to be if you were to use your imagination. Cooking to perfection or baking to a golden brown is handled via watching a meter, and making the appropriate motions within said meter to make sure food doesn't burn on your watch.
It's actually ingenious ... but only when it works. Unfortunately, there are more than a few hitches in the control scheme — many of which are related to speed and repeated motion. It's frustrating to see the game stop a split-second before or after you're done pouring, so that your perfect ingredient measurements are ruined. It's also frustrating to see the game think that you're stirring in the reverse direction from how you're really stirring. Please, don't get me started on shaking the pan during stir-fry. We may be here all night.
Once you've had some experience making the meal, you can get your Iron Chef on in the Challenge Mode by competing against either the clock or another player to see who can get the highest score. This is where the control problems stand out even more; whereas you had all the time in the world to deal with them in Standard mode, in competition you're timed, and you don't get much of it. Unless you're a ninja with your Wiimote, you're not going to get everything right on the first try the way the game wants you to; in fact, odds are you may fail straight out of the gate the first few times after the clock stops far sooner than you're used to.
All of this means that, at its best moments, Cooking Mama is able to fool your brain into thinking that you're actually cooking, and make you smell food that isn't really there as you "cook" it, as well as fool your body into thinking that the temperature around you is rising.. Unlike the graphics, the sounds of cooking are highly realistic. You know you're frying something, you know that if you overdo it, you're in trouble, and you know that you want to get things just right.
At its worst, however, Cooking Mama is enough to make you want to throw your Wiimote at the screen as the game struggles to recognize the commands that you give it.
It's hard to figure out who to recommend Cooking Mama: Cook Off to outside of young girls or chronic party-gamers. It's a passable cooking simulator that's not without its own brand of charm, but which also lacks polish. However, if you're like me (or even if you're not), odds are you're wondering why you should spend $50 on a game that lets you cook virtual food when you could instead buy $50 of real food, do the cooking yourself (with far more precise recipes and actions, and a lot more potential for adventure), and have a grand old feast afterwards.
As far as that goes, dear reader ... well, even I don't have the answer to everything.
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