Prepare dishes with speed and effectiveness or be disowned by a middle-aged woman who shoots fire out of her eyes.
In the real world, I’m a terrible chef. I’m probably the only person in the world who can burn water, and if a recipe calls for anything more advanced than bread, meat, and condiments, I’ll usually leave it to someone else. But in Cooking Mama, I’m an all-star cook, since the game’s not much more than WarioWare with a food angle.
Keep in mind this is a review of the Japanese version, and while the game can be figured out with enough trial and error, you might want to wait for the localized version, as Majesco’s planning to release it in North America later this year. If you can’t wait to get your fix, though, head on over to our friends at Lik-Sang and order a copy.
The premise for Cooking Mama is simple enough: under the direction of a middle-aged woman (“Mama," presumably), you’ll prepare a variety of Japanese-themed dishes. I really have to stress the Japanese part, as many recipes call for oddities like tomato slices and thick coats of mayonnaise on microwavable pizza. The most Americanized mission you’ll have will be to pour some instant coffee into a paper cup.
But how does it work? The main game will show you a few rows of meals, and after picking one, you’ll have the option of practicing it first or heading right into the challenge. I’d recommend practicing dishes for your first few hours of play, until you get used to things. After that, you probably won’t see anything new, so jumping straight into challenges later on is fine.
Actually making the dish is split up into multiple mini-games, all of which are very WarioWare-ish in nature. Using only the stylus, you’re required to complete tasks like cracking an egg over a bowl, stirring a pot, or moving the temperature slide on a stove to prevent your meal from over-heating. Almost all of these will have a time limit, and based on your performance, you’ll get a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal. Anything lower than Silver warrants a fire-eyed scold from Mama, however, and it’ll affect your final score. If you can muster up a high percentage, a new dish will open up, eventually resulting in dozens of recipes to try out.
Other modes of play include practicing mini-games you’ve already unlocked and another where you’ll be able to combine dishes to make something a little more grand in scope. While they’re a nice addition, most of your play-through will likely be spent on the main campaign.
My main complaint about Cooking Mama is that, while the mini-games are fun at first, they’re used pretty frequently, and sometimes it’ll seem like you’re just making a different meal in a jumbled order. Also, there are some control issues where the touch screen won’t be as sensitive as it should be, often resulting in a Bronze simply because it wasn’t registering your actions properly.
Cooking Mama’s presentation isn’t much to write home about, either. Although certainly sharp and colorful, it doesn’t look like anything the GBA couldn’t handle, and the limited animation just makes that all the more obvious. As far as the audio, it can be summed up in a few words: the same song is played throughout the entire game. The same song. Entire game.
Cooking Mama was fun for a while, but after the novelty wore off, the repetition of the mini-games and the janky stylus controls just became a bigger and more noticeable defect, and while I’d love to praise the game for trying something different, I have to fault it for not having much depth. Nintendo’s recently-announced Cooking Navi sounds like it might be the true successor to the Cooking Simulation throne.