The Nintendo DS has proven itself to be a fantastic portable video game machine. It has also proven to be a machine capable of producing experiences that have nothing to do with video games. It won't beat smartphones or portable computers, but the touch-oriented portable is home to some good applications that turn out to be quite fun in their own right, including making music with the Korg DS-10 Synthesizer, making small cartoons with Flipnote Studio, and learning languages with various language programs. Cooking is also something that has been toyed with, outside of using it as a basis for a game. Both What's Cooking with Jamie Oliver and Personal Trainer: Cooking showed users that the Nintendo DS can be used with great effect as an interactive cookbook. Nintendo felt that it was time for another interactive cookbook, especially with the launch of the Nintendo DSi XL system. Just like their previous effort, America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking shows that you don't necessarily need a computer to have a really good interactive cookbook.
When you first start the program, you'll be asked to set up a profile for yourself. Setting up the speed of the speaker comes next, followed by the option to create a group the user will belong to, and you can speak your name into the console for recognition later on. When all of that is completed, the whole game will be open to you.
The user has plenty of options once all of the setup is done. The main section, of course, is the cooking. Selecting Let's Get Cooking mode brings you to another menu where you can view all 300 recipes or do a search for them based on criteria such as ingredients or calorie count. You can also exclude some recipes by selecting foods that you know you don't want to eat or don't want others to eat. Special events like Easter and Mother's Day make the program suggest dishes to cook if you can't think of anything, while the Calendar and Try It options let you plan what you want to cook for particular days or remind you which dishes you wanted to try, respectively. Depending on the dish, you also have the option of sending a recipe to another local Nintendo DS so that you can work on one dish while someone else can work on an entirely different one.
Once you select a recipe, you can review both the utensils and ingredients needed for the task. If you don't have the ingredients, you can let the program know so it can put them in a shopping list for your next grocery trip. Once everything is assembled, the game will start speaking out all of the necessary measurements and steps to create the dish. If you choose to do this with more than one person, the game will call out each person's name and give him or her specific instructions for making each dish so that the tasks are evenly distributed. You can always ask the game to repeat instructions or go back in case you want to review things while cooking, and the steps never go forward until you tell it to do so. Once the recipe is done, you can rate it and add notes in case you feel that you can improve upon it and add your own personal touch.
If this sounds familiar to you, that's because it is if you've ever come across Personal Trainer: Cooking on the Nintendo DS. Except for the name, everything from the presentation to the mechanics mimics the earlier game quite flawlessly. The big difference lies in the dishes. While Personal Trainer: Cooking had a broad number of recipes from different nations, every dish in America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking is done with American tastes in mind. Even the pasta and Mexican dishes, while not native to the United States, were selected to round off the recipe count at 300 and because most American's are familiar enough with the dishes to try cooking them on their own. The result is a piece of software that complements the prior effort instead of trumping it. It trades taste adventures for familiarity, and in cooking, there's nothing wrong with that approach.
To be honest, the instructions work rather well. We tried out a few of the recipes, and they not only ended up being fairly easy to make but they also tasted good. There were a few that didn't taste as good as one would have hoped, but if you factor in human error as well as people's different taste preferences, the result is similar to what would be found if one were to try cooking from an original cookbook.
There are a few other options in Let's Get Cooking. Your shopping list is a quick way to figure out the ingredients you need to buy for your recipe. It still has the bad habit of listing an item multiple times if several recipes call for it, but at least you can click on said item and see exactly which recipe it references. There's also a notepad for putting in notes for specific dishes, like adding less salt to a particular food or using substitute ingredients. There's a cooking encyclopedia that has information and facts on everything from ingredients to terminology to cutting techniques. Finally, you have options that let you tweak things such as chef speed; you can also flag profiles if you don't want them handling heat and knives or exclude them from using certain ingredients.
Even though it was mentioned in the introductory paragraph, it must be stressed again that Let's Get Cooking isn't a game but an application. There's no end goal for the program, and no recipes are hidden away, waiting for the right criteria to be reached in order to be unlocked. There is a hidden game if you use the cooking timer, however. The full Game & Watch version of Egg is unlocked, and while the game may be simple (you play a fox trying to catch as many eggs as possible from chickens), it still proves to be tons of fun after all these years. The only other "game" element is the ability to gain experience by cooking different recipes with your chosen profile. If you go in to the game expecting a more sophisticated Cooking Mama, though, you'll be severely disappointed with what you find.
The controls, as you would expect, are rather simple. Everything on the program relies on simple taps on the touch-screen. There are a few sections where you can write out exactly what you're looking for and the program does a good job of recognizing what you've written. Where things can get a bit prickly is with voice recognition. When making any dishes, you have the option of either tapping the screen to navigate through the menu steps or using your voice to say the preset navigation phrases. The voice recognition works out better than expected, as there were very few times during the review period when words had to be repeated. The only time the game seemed to proceed on its own is in a noisy environment where it sometimes interprets other words or speech from other people as commands. Otherwise, in an environment that isn't too chatty, it performed nicely.
Considering that the program isn't trying to force you to look at the screen during every step of the cooking process, the sound must be audible and clear in order for the whole thing to work. Fortunately, the sound is perfect when it needs to be. The narrator's voice comes through clearly in just about every menu and step in the recipe process. There is music in the game, and it complements the vibe nicely without overpowering the speech. The only time you'll hear any sort of static is during some of the instructional videos, where it seems like there's too much pickup on the mic in spots. It doesn't last long and doesn't obscure what is being taught, but it is present every once in a while.
For a cookbook application, America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking is quite good. The voice controls can get a little spotty but everything else, from the audio directions to the presentation to the amount of recipes included, is great. With the emphasis on American dishes, this is more of a complementary program to Personal Trainer: Cooking than a replacement. If you plan on cooking dishes, either by yourself or with others, this program is a perfect fit.
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