A charming treat that gets stale too fast.
Cooking Mama is back at it again for her third kitchen-based adventure on the 3DS, and this time, she’s got her eyes set on the sweets. In Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop, you’ll focus on honing your baking and treat making skills by tapping, sliding and drawing your way through a range of different touch-based mini games. Doing so will unlock recipes and expand your shop to accommodate over 60 different snacks and goodies. Sadly, as you progress through the different recipes, you’ll start to see repeated mini games, and while not always a bad thing, almost all tend to be easy and rather shallow games to begin with.
There are a few different modes you can tinker with, but the main campaign is the Let’s Make Sweets mode. This is where you’ll learn to make different baked goods. By successfully making each recipe, that sweet becomes available to sell in your shop. Completing recipes will reward you with a score and medal depending on how you did as well as unlocking more recipes for you to explore. Most times it’s a brand new recipe, but sometimes it’s a riff on the one you just completed; for example, making an Éclair rewards you with the recipe for Éclair Fruit Sandwiches.
So how do you complete recipes? Well, it’s as simple as following the step by step instructions presented to you. Each recipe is broken down into a varying number of different mini games, many of which feel like micro games. Before each mini game begins, you’ll be given a rundown of what to expect, and upon starting, there will be visual cues on exactly what is asked of you. There is an option to do a practice run before diving into the real thing, but each game is simple enough that you’ll easily be able to go in blind and figure out exactly what to do. Some examples of recurring mini games are cracking eggs by sliding the stylus towards the side of a bowl and another where you must mix the contents of a bowl by moving the stylus in a circle pattern while stopping to add more ingredients periodically. There are some strange mini games, like rearranging the contents of your fridge to make room for pudding (invoking nightmares of Wii memory management), balancing a bowl in your arms by either tapping your arms or using the 3DS’ gyro controls and even tapping the screen at the correct time to use your feet to stomp on some dough. However, the games I found to be most enjoyable usually asked you to stay inside a certain range by either speeding up or slowing down your actions. Ultimately, your performance doesn’t really matter because, no matter how good or bad you do, you’ll still unlock the next recipe and that treat becomes available for your shop.
Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop offers a few other game modes and options for the player to delve into with varying mileage. My Shop allows you to view and edit the contents and aesthetic of your shop as well as earn money from selling your wares. You can spend that money in the Lets Shop mode where you can purchase costumes for Mama, different designs for your shop and kitchen and new photo items such as frames. Mama’s Gallery allows you to change Mama’s costumes and alter the designs for your kitchen and shop. Photo Studio is where you can view pictures you take after completing recipes in Let’s Make Sweets mode. The last game mode you can access is World Challenge which is available right off the bat but won’t actually be playable before you complete a handful of recipes. Eventually you’ll be randomly visited by Sweets Madam who is in search of the perfect treat. The bad news is you never have this treat made for her, but luckily it’ll unlock right after she visits and creating it will prompt her to visit the shop again. She then unlocks a mini game based on that treat by opening a shop on the world map. One such mini game is the Donut Shop which shows you a tray with different assorted donuts and drinks on it, and then you must match it after they remove it from the screen. These are all time attacks where you try to rack up the most points, so they have some replayability, but usually one or two play through is enough.
Cooking Mama boasts a cute and very charming feel from the way the sweets look visually down to the way Mama yells things like, “Even better than Mama!” in her weird distorted voice. There are some odd moments in the game when you see your character's arms or legs that are a bit jarring, but they’re few and far between and overall don’t distract from the experience. The soundtrack is limited but not in a negative way as most tunes are fun and can easily get stuck in your head. Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop relies completely on touch controls and they nail it. The controls felt great and I didn’t experience any instances where I was doing the correct motion and it registered incorrectly. The game does offer 3D, but it’s hardly noticeable. Considering most of the action takes place on the bottom screen this isn’t much of a problem.
Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop was my first foray into the series and it left me with a middling feeling. The game is extremely charming, but ultimately, the gameplay is paper thin. That’s only compounded by the fact you’ll be replaying many of the mini games multiple times or similar versions with small tweaks. The game does offer a ton of recipes, easily offering up hours of content for those willing to grind through the mini games, but with little incentive outside of an arbitrary score and medal, it quickly becomes a daunting task.