Cooking Mama
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-09-17 Nintendo DS Simulation E (Everyone) Taito Corporation / Majesco Games

"Moooom! I'm hungry! Make me a sandwich!" Does this scenario sound even slightly familiar to any of you? If it does, then I am happy to announce that parents now have a way to get back at their always hungry offspring, with the help of the newest unique offering available for the Nintendo DS: Cooking Mama.

Developed by Taito, Cooking Mama is a simplistic puzzle / mini-game title that places you in the role of "chef-in-training." You are left with the challenge of preparing 76 mostly Japanese dishes, in step-by-step processes, with Mama as your guide. There are a few familiar dishes like your basic sandwich and pizza, but for the most part, the meals in question contain elements that aren't considered the norm in American cuisine. These add to the overall uniqueness of the title, in that most of the dishes will be very new to players.

In a way, Cooking Mama can be looked at as a quirky cooking simulation, with you having to literally wash, cut, slice, chop and otherwise prepare most of your ingredients before you can ever put them in the pan. Once you actually start to cook, you will have to change the temperature, mix, knead and even blow into the mic to cool off food.

All actions, from slicing to folding are performed with the stylus, and offer a great opportunity to hone your skills with the innovative little pen. There are a couple instances where the game doesn't register that the stylus is touching the food (in the peeling scenarios especially), but for the most part, the system works as it should.

Each part of the cooking process is separated into its own timed section, and each section earns you a piece of the meal's overall grade. For instance, when making fried rice, you have to measure out both the water and the rice, to make sure you have enough of both. If you get too much or two little of these ingredients, your overall grade will be affected, with bigger mistakes taking off more points from the available 100 for each dish.

When the meal has been prepared, either by you or by Mama if you fail, you will receive an overall grade, and (if you did well enough) one of three medals: Bronze, Silver and Gold. The only way to earn the coveted gold medal is by getting a score of 100, which is a lot easier said than done. With certain dishes having 10 steps or more, each with varying difficulties, it is quite the task to be perfect in each and every step. That statement alone makes the game have a massive degree of replayability, in that you will probably have to do each meal at least twice in order to reach the highest peak.

With bright colors and fun designs, Cooking Mama looks just as fun as it plays. While the foods you are preparing may not be represented with perfect realism, there is a certain cartoon-ish quality that makes the entire package very appealing. The sound department, however, is the game's main flaw.

Where the action sounds are spot on, with sounds for chopping, mixing, frying, etc. the music itself gets repetitive pretty quickly, as does the "stage complete!" tone, which there is no way of skipping through. The music, however, is very lighthearted and fits the look of the game pretty well, so not all is lost.

If you get bored with simple preparation, there are other modes for your enjoyment. "Let's Combine!" lets you take elements from different recipes and combine them into various unappetizing creations. There is also a skill mode that lets you practice certain skills that you have picked up in the other two modes. This mode is timed, and measures how much you can chop, peel, etc. in a certain amount of time. DS "Download Play" rounds out the available modes of gameplay.

Unfortunately, there is no Wi-Fi with this one. Maybe it's just me, but the thought of "Iron Chef-ing" it on the Nintendo DS sounds very appealing. "Who can chop onions the fastest? Who can make the best spring rolls?" While the idea of competitive cooking against other players virtually may sound a bit odd, I do think that is one opportunity that the people at Taito should have jumped on, but it's not too grand a disappointment when the single player modes hold up as well as they do.

With meals being unlocked every few dishes, there is always something new to experience and create. Completing all 76 dishes with a gold medal will definitely take some time, even for seasoned veterans of the DS's stylus, and the gameplay is intuitive enough to let even rookies stand a chance at making it big.

Cooking Mama is one of those rare games that come along with an absurd theme that surprisingly works. I would place it is in the league of Katamari Damacy - both sound ridiculous on paper, yet amount to some of the most addictive gameplay one can have at a budget title price ($20).

In the end, I think I can sum it up by saying that if cooking in the real world were this fun, I'd never leave the kitchen!