Thanks to this generation of gaming, even the most mundane activities can be made into the basis of a fairly good game. Gardening Mama, for example, made the simple activity of gardening a fun experience for those who have no real-life interest in it. The Wii Fit and EA Active series of games did the same for exercise. It was the Cooking Mama series of games, though, that started the trend by making the art of cooking accessible to all ages and players whether or not they had ever done something as simple as boil water or as complicated as making a three-course dinner. The success of that game series has not gone unnoticed — especially the Food Network, the basic cable channel that specializes in food-themed programming. The network has already tried its hand at a cooking game with Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine, and while that was a decent game, it didn't really fit into the channel's desire to get people involved and excited about cooking. Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked is a cooking title with a slightly different focus, and while it does some things well, the overall length of the game doesn't help it against some of the genre's heavyweights.
The game has an actual story line that does a fair job of explaining why you're creating these meals in the first place. Susie Fogelson and Mory Thomas, both executives with the Food Network as well as part-time celebrities on a few of the network's shows, are looking for the best home cook in the nation. As a recent applicant for that position, both personalities have stepped out of the TV screen and into your kitchen to see just how well you can do. Your job is to impress them with your cooking and time skills on 30 different recipes so they can rightfully claim you as the best home kitchen cook in the nation.
There are a few things done differently from other cooking games on the market. For one, you are never preparing individual dishes but whole meals. For example, fried eggs are cooked alongside bacon strips and a pot of coffee in order to get breakfast made. This brings up the other big change, which is time management. The last thing you want to happen is to have any of your dishes be cold, so you need to have all of them finish at approximately the same time. Your actions on determining when to start cooking a dish or when to begin the next step determine your high scores for the meal and what you can unlock next.
The biggest gripe that can be levied against Cook or Be Cooked is the lack of content. The box advertises over 30 recipes in the game, but it combines most of those recipes into the 12 stages. With the time management and scoring aspects of the game, there's no opportunity to simply stick with one recipe and learn all of the details for that dish alone. That oversight is remedied in the instruction booklet, which provides details for all of the included dishes. However, it is also remedied in the source material How to Boil Water, a book by the Food Network on which the game's dishes were based. If this game were an interactive version of that book instead, we would have hours upon hours of entertainment since that book contained hundreds of recipes of varying difficulties. As it stands, though, the title can be fully explored in the course of an afternoon.
The controls are where the game shines brightly. Unlike the other cooking games, this one requires both the Nunchuk and the Wii Remote to function properly. However, the Nunchuk is really used to do two things: confirm menu choices and speed up time. The confirmation choice seems a bit gratuitous at first, but considering how fast and frantic things can get with the time constantly running against you, it actually becomes a welcome feature. The time factor also makes the speed button a good addition since the game tends to cook everything in real time. If it weren't for that button, cooking dishes like lasagna would become unbearable. Aside from that, the Wii Remote movements are more accurate than one would expect. Every movement, from chopping to stirring to pouring, is accurately done so exaggerated movements aren't necessary. It might seem like cheating to only have minimal movements necessary to do things like cracking eggs and stirring pots, but the controls are accurate enough that you won't make as many mistakes as you would in other cooking titles.
The graphics are great in some areas and decent in others. Obviously, the amount of attention paid to the various food dishes is great since the dishes look gorgeous. Eschewing a cartoon-like look for a real one, the dishes look good enough that they can be mistaken for photographs instead of computer renderings. The kitchen itself, including appliances and tools, look good. There's nothing special about the environment, but it doesn't look bland, either. When it comes to the hosts, though, things are mediocre. The hosts animate well, and their expressions are very clear, but the lip-synching doesn't match the speech most of the time; there are a few instances when the lips move but nothing can be heard. Couple that with the fact that the numerous jaggies plague the character models the most, and you have one area where the graphics could have been close to perfect had these issues been resolved.
The sound isn't extraordinary in Cook or Be Cooked, but it gets the job done. The effects from sizzling food and microwave button presses aren't any different than in other games, but they stay true to what you would hear in real life. The music is nice and calming at all times, never making a bad situation worse whenever food is getting overcooked or cold. As for the voices, both Fogelson and Thomas deliver their lines well, expressing the right amount of disappointment when things go badly and a nice subtle hint of excitement when things go well. They can't exactly be thought of as the best voices in gaming, but they don't sound like they're phoning it in, either.
If it had featured more recipes, Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked would have been an excellent cooking game for the Wii. The graphics and sound are fine, and the controls are probably the most accurate for this genre. Couple that with the fact that it features actual recipes for the dishes you're preparing, and you have a game that is both educational and fun. However, just having 12 levels really makes this a two- to three-hour game at most, and without too many other modes to deal with, the fun just doesn't last. Ultimately, the title is a good rental, but those who really want to have some fun with cooking should still go with the Cooking Mama series or the book on which this game was based, How to Boil Water, as it is a more satisfying experience.
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