Coming home to Mama feels just like I remember, but worse.
Cooking sims are a rare experience to find at this point in gaming’s lifespan, and it’s an even rarer chance to find one that brings a proper farm-to-table experience. Cooking Mama: Cookstar—amidst quite the tumultuous launch—takes a beloved franchise and presents us with a Wii-era title that looks and feels like the Cooking Mama we want but doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the Nintendo Switch.
I do want to note that my personal experience showed that the rumor mill may have gotten out of hand with this one. Although I can’t comment on if the game does anything on your Switch in the background; in terms of overheating, I had very few issues. Even with the system getting warm here and there, it was nothing that had me worried for the lifespan of my system, and in fact, seemed to be running cooler and quieter than when I am playing Animal Crossing. Please keep in mind the potential risks with the game when considering buying and playing this one, but I didn’t notice anything that would give me cause to tell you not to purchase it outright.
Now that that’s over with, back to the review:
Cooking Mama: Cookstar offers nothing in terms of storytelling, simply jumping right into the cooking action from the off. You start with a series of recipes available, where after their completion you are given additional dishes to try out. Top to bottom, this is a pure simulation title, where going through the motions of cutting, stirring, and spreading are waiting for you. Beyond the lack of something to keep things more interesting in terms of why you’re helping Mama out, you also have graphics that, though sharper than the Wii or DS era, feel right at home with previous entries in the series. Music is samey and a bit too upbeat and happy at all times, which pairs creepily with the odd voice acting and cheers of encouragement from your cooking guide. All of this creates just enough of an off-kilter experience that you feel displaced right away, rather than feeling welcome back home.
Once you get into the nitty-gritty and start up a dish, things begin to settle back into place, but the lack of depth in terms of your actions makes for some chill, relaxed gameplay that doesn’t challenge or excite. Cutting up vegetables and adding ingredients into a stand mixer is all good and fine, but there is no real pizzazz outside of a camera mode at the end of each recipe that allows you to plate your creation however you please, with the addition of filters and the like to really wow your social media following.
Maxing out the ratings for each dish isn’t something you’re going to find any sort of issue breezing through, but my one gripe with it is that making one, small mistake leads to a two-star rating, rather than a three. Because of this, taking the time to enter the practice mode for each recipe may be necessary just to get acquainted with the steps coming up so you don’t get caught off guard, but otherwise, taking your chances end just fine most of the time. An additional mode in which the Cooking Mama lets you try out recipes with no help boosts the difficulty, but comes down more to memorization, rather than truly teaching you anything.
What makes this a bigger issue is that the motion controls are spotty and inaccurate. Regularly you will find yourself flailing about trying to get the proper input, which made me feel like I was using a Wiimote, rather than the higher-tech Joy-Con. Interestingly, every other title ever that I have played has been crisp in terms of accuracy and input with these high-end devices, but for some reason, Cooking Mama: Cookstar didn’t get the memo.
The only real saving grace to the experience is that it can be enjoyable when playing with others, especially children. I had my kid cracking up messing with the game, and we had a genuinely good time playing this title with him.
In terms of what is on offer for a veteran gamer or someone who is familiar with the franchise, you will find this is a lacking option with not a lot of change, variation, or improvements. Motion control issues hamper the experience for anyone going for full completion, and the rest of what you see will remind you of one of the Wii-era titles in the series straight from 2007. As a family game, Cooking Mama: Cookstar offers a serviceable experience for your children for an evening.