I'll admit that I watch "Hell's Kitchen." Maybe it's the over-the-top sensationalism or the drill instructor-style rants from Chef Gordon Ramsay, but I definitely consider the show to be a guilty pleasure. I couldn't imagine how the television show would be converted into a video game unless it involved the Wii calling you a donkey and telling you to shut it down, or if it was a repackaged version of Cooking Mama. Well, good news on both fronts. All of Ramsay's censored insults are intact, and Hell's Kitchen has familiar game elements but in a whole new presentation.
Hell's Kitchen puts you in the role of, well, everyone. You'll be in charge of cooking, preparation and service. The title has a simple targeting interface that would likely translate better with a mouse than wild arm flails, but it's intuitive and doesn't require any deep understanding. To prepare a meal, you'll step into the kitchen where the counter has your active ingredients, and your stove has pans and pots showing which ingredients you need. Click the pile of greens, and it animates into a whirling blur (preparation stage) and finally ends up in your ingredient bowl. Likewise, click the pile of bread, and away it whirls until you end up with a bowl of finished ingredients. Then it's just a matter of dragging the greens up to the pan and following it up with the bread. A counter beside the pan begins to count down while the quality of the dish (shown by stars) increases. Once the timer goes off, you remove the finished dish and put it on the staging plate to serve your guests. Simple, right?
Sure, it starts off simply, but Hell's Kitchen is all about progress and challenging your manageability. You'll have to balance multiple dishes, multiple ingredients, varied cook times, and do it all so that you end up with five-star dishes ready to plate and send out to the customers. It all feels very micro-gamey, but it's really the meat and potatoes of the game. See what I did there? That's a food joke.
Now, what would a restaurant be without customers? That's right; you'll also be functioning as busboy, greeter and waiter and in addition to your duties as head chef. Although Hell's Kitchen initially starts you ranked as a dishwasher, you don't actually have to wash any dishes. The service aspect of the game follows a simple click-and-queue system. When patrons arrive, a little blue light will slowly pulse to show you where to click. Clicking will then seat your guests with menus. Once the customers are ready to order, another blue pulse will indicate their menus are down and for you to click to take the order. From there, the order request slides into the kitchen, where you can begin your food preparation. The whole thing has a very Root Beer Tapper feel to it, which you could either see as an amazing thing or a reason to skip the game entirely, but I think it works out well. It gives you just enough measure of control without being overwhelming with buttons and multiple controls. It just works well.
As you progress through successful dining services, you will earn more challenges by way of more food ingredients, multiple meal courses, more tables and more customers. It becomes a major juggling act to slide you between the dining room and kitchen to ensure that everything moves smoothly. This brings us to the game's incentive, the Hell's Kitchen fire meter.
Even if you've never watched the television show, you know how much people hate waiting, and this game proves it visually by way of a large flaming bar on the screen. As your customers wait for a table, wait to have their orders taken, or wait to their dishes cleared, little flames rise from them and get added to the meter. That meter will determine your star rating. Greet people, seat them, take their orders, serve their food, and clear their plates promptly, and the fire rating will go down and at best leave you with a five-star rating. Conversely, upset too many guests or mess up too many dishes, and prepare to hear some gems of wisdom from Ramsay, such as, "Move your ***!" and "That's it! Don't. Touch. Another. Thing." It's really worth playing through a few levels and purposefully messing up just to hear the voice clips, which are worth a few laughs.
One of the other "big" selling points of the game is that it includes real recipes for your menu that are taken out of Ramsay's books. It's a nice touch to make the game feel more immersive, though I honestly wonder how many people are sitting in front of their Wiis transcribing how to make Shrimp Risotto. I suppose there is that small niche of hardcore food-simulation gamers who hate buying cookbooks. If so, then oh man, is this game for them.
Hell's Kitchen also features an Arcade mode in addition to the career path, but it follows the same game dynamic. It offers a few more serving stations and ingredient types than the early career path, but will still rate your results in the standard one- to five-star measurement. I suppose it's good for a quick play at the game, but there really isn't much depth to it.
The multiplayer mode is actually a nice twist to the game. It pits players as Red Team versus Blue Team, following the television show's history. Again, food preparation follows the same game controls, but with a twist. This time, there are limited ingredients, and whoever is a quicker draw with his or her Wii Remote will get a jump on certain dishes. It's a pretty frantic and fun addition to the title.
There is no music to speak of at all, although you won't notice between all of the frantic running you'll be doing between the kitchen and dining room. The sound is adequate and does a good job of informing you when dishes are done or ingredients are done mixing. Likewise, Ramsay's voice clips are more than capable of informing you of diners' frustrations or your general lack of progress. If you're good, you might even hear a few words of praise.
The biggest flaw in Hell's Kitchen, unfortunately, is its lack of depth. The career mode puts you in the role of busboy, chef, greeter, waiter and presumably dishwasher, without any real backstory or ability to customize anything. I'm not looking for a Tiger Woods level of character creation, but it would've been nice to be able to change the look of the dining room as an unlockable reward for five-star service, or perhaps you could even purchase waiters and greeters to help run the place. I suppose that would've been more of a "Sim Restaurant" than an in-your-face Ramsay title, but it's still something that would've been an excellent touch.
The game has replayability because of two main reasons: the fun multiplayer option and the star-rating system in the career mode. You'll need a certain number of stars from week to week to unlock the further challenges. Plus, if you're as obsessive as I am about receiving praise from your game console, you'll replay those few days where you got three or four stars to get perfect five-star ratings.
Anyone who likes simple simulation games, is a fan of the "Hell's Kitchen" television show, or was a die-hard Root Beer Tapper fiend will find that the Hell's Kitchen game is definitely worth a play. It's not as deep as it could be, but the graphics are clean, the gameplay is frantic and fun, and the controls are smooth and intuitive. Now get out here and greet the customers, you donkey!
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