Developer: Black Lantern
Release Date: November 18, 2008
There's no way to hide the fact that Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine is a Cooking Mama clone. While Iron Chef America may be missing some of the higher-end production values, the gameplay is a bit more fluid and feels noticeably more competitive than it is in Cooking Mama. What comes together is a game that's fun for a little while, but doesn't really have enough staying power to be something that you'd play for more than a couple of hours.
For those uninitiated with Cooking Mama, this is a style of game that revolves around a ton of fast-paced mini-games. Most tasks are extremely simple, having about the depth of a three- to five-second mini-game. At times, this can make the title feel a bit like Warioware, with lots of small games thrown at you. The major difference, of course, is that there's an order to the chaos in Iron Chef America, as there is in Cooking Mama.
In Iron Chef America, there are 18 basic tasks with variations depending on the food item you're working with. This can be as uninvolved as setting the speed on a mixer or as intricate as slicing something in a very specific manner. When the task comes up, an announcer will tell you what to do in a single word: "Plate!", "Dice!", "Fry!" There's a time limit on each task, and if you can't finish it within that limit, you've done a poor job and are swept away to the next task.
This is something that Iron Chef America does a fantastic job with, when compared to Cooking Mama. In the latter, there is a large break between each task during which you're thoroughly graded on how well you did, but in Iron Chef, you see one word flash on the screen when you finish a task before you're immediately thrown into the next assignment. It's not until after the competition is over that you can see how well you did on each individual task, which really adds intensity to the title. The meter on the top screen, which shows the total progress you've made versus the other chef, fosters a healthy feeling of competition even though you're simply facing an AI opponent.
While a match on the actual TV series takes place over an hour of cooking and the following taste testing, a full match of Iron Chef America can be completed in 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how complex of a meal you opt to create. The more complex you go, the less time you have to accomplish each task. As with the show, you're graded on creativity, presentation and taste. Creativity is likely governed by which dishes you choose to make, and taste is governed by how well you actually prepare the dishes. Presentation focuses entirely on the last task for each dish, where you throw garnishes on the dish in a visually pleasing manner, so it's hard to not get a perfect score.
The average flow for a match of Iron Chef America goes like this. Alton Brown will say one of about three things (all text here, no voice-overs) as an introduction. From there, the Chairman will come in and reveal the secret ingredient, and you select which dishes you wish to create. Depending on the rules of the match, you'll need to choose between three to six dishes. While choosing dishes, you can see the individual steps during the creation process, so if you see a lot of a task you're strong at, it might be a good idea to choose the dish. On the flip side, if you see a task you're awful at, like I am with the fillet task, you should probably avoid that dish like the plague.
Once you've selected your dishes, the match begins, and you perform various tasks for the next six or seven minutes trying to get everything done. It's intense, and most of the tasks are reasonably fun, although a few exceptions just aren't fun to play. Once you've done all of the major prep work, you'll be introduced to the judges, the first of whom is always an old, snobby man. There are three other groups that can fill in the other two judging slots: models, news anchors or several comedians. None of these are real TV personalities, but they fit their stereotypes to a fault.
After meeting the judges, you're tasked with plating the dishes, which involves having an absurd amount of time to place garnishes on the dishes. Compared to what you were previously doing, this isn't nearly as intense, and it must be done for each dish, which can make those six-course meals take just as long to garnish as they did to prepare. Finally, each game ends with judging, where each judge has a few comments about your best and worst dishes. Amusingly, even if your worst dish is pretty good, they'll have no problem calling it a crime against humanity.
As you finish matches, you may get award ribbons, which are somewhat like Achievements on the Xbox 360. There are three levels to each ribbon, and the final level can sometimes be difficult. Most of them are simply awarded if you perform tasks a certain number of times, which means that you need to play the game a lot. Sadly, this probably won't happen because there's not a whole lot of longevity to Iron Chef America. Once you've finished the career mode, there's really nothing left that you haven't seen. The game knows this too, because the final level of the "time played" ribbon is awarded after five hours of gameplay.
As stated, the main offering in Iron Chef America is the career mode, where you star as a challenger who seems to come back on the show a lot. You'll start by taking on easy Iron Chefs and easier secret ingredients, and you'll only need to make a few dishes. Eventually, you'll be upgraded to an Iron Chef and be doing six-course meals with difficult secret ingredients and difficult challengers. After beating everyone, there's a neat final battle against a surprise challenger. It's not very deep or long, but it's a decent amount of fun while it lasts.
The other game modes are lacking the depth of the career mode, though. Quickplay lets you pick an opponent chef and secret dish, and you compete. The judges, the chairman and Alton Brown have been removed from the equation, so you simply cook and get a score to see who won. The multiplayer is either hot seat or multi-cart play. The multi-cart serves its purpose, but the hot seat play removes any intensity from the game because it pauses between each task to let you switch players.
Iron Chef America doesn't hit the mark on presentation, though. The menu system is bare-bones, voice samples are extremely limited, and there's one song in the game (although I'll admit that the "Iron Chef" theme sounds pretty epic). Graphically, the gameplay is all prerendered 2-D work, and the judges, chairman, and Alton Brown are done in a frightening-looking 3-D style, although they are static and never move.
Regardless of how much it may resemble Cooking Mama, there's fun to be had with Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine. The game structure makes for a fast, intense handheld experience, but there's not a whole lot of gameplay to be found. Most players won't have much reason to spend more than a couple of hours on the title before they grow weary of it, and the lacking presentation doesn't help with keeping players interested in the experience. There are worse ways to spend money on fake cooking, but you could also do better than this.
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