I’ve come across some pretty bizarre games since I started playing way back in the days of Space Invaders and Pong, but this one right here is angling for the title of strangest yet. Cooking Mama: a game about…cooking.
And not like a vicious knife fight with an alien whom you then cook; not hunting and shooting dangerous wild game and then preparing it for consumption. It’s…cooking. With Mama. I’m not stoned, really.
Cooking Mama is a collection of minigames all centered around the preparation of various dishes. Driven entirely by the stylus, it’s a game one can pick up and play right away—no tutorial is required, and the minigames are all just a matter of tapping or dragging or drawing in a timely fashion. This ain’t rocket science.
Your food preparation is supervised by Mama herself, who praises you for successful completion of the minigames and fumes at you for screwing up. The minigames range from the mind-numbingly simple (like typing in the correct number on a numeric keypad/cooking timer) to some that require good timing (tapping different ingredients to add to a boiling pot at just the right time while sliding the stovetop temperature control to adjust the heat and stirring with a few circles of the stylus) to some that actually require a little logical thought (tapping different ingredients to introduce them into a frying pan, each one requiring a different cooking time, making sure they’re all ready to remove at the same time), but none of them truly challenge. Some of the dishes even require you to lay out the food on the plate—the judges can award up to five points for presentation.
My four-year-old can do most of these successfully. If you’re having trouble with Cooking Mama, chances are minigames just aren’t your thing.
The game starts with about a dozen different “recipes” for preparing dishes, and others are unlocked as you continue. As you complete each dish, Mama will award you a gold, silver or bronze medal (or, if you fail outright, a scolding). The five year-old in me still thirsts for the gold star, but Mama demands perfection on each step in the process, and cooking spaghetti 30 times to get everything just so will drive you to drinking…or to shoot up the nearest Olive Garden.
The graphics are very basic, and the music is both repetitive and unimpressive. The DS isn’t breaking a sweat running this game, and there’s little about the production in Cooking Mama that stands out. The cooking and food preparation noises are pleasantly accurate, right down to the hiss of a frying burger as it’s pressed down against the pan, or the crisp cutting noise as you chop up a vegetable.
What Cooking Mama does right is provide a simple, amusing game that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought and is perfect for killing off 10-20 minutes while waiting for the bus or getting in a quick dish during a commercial break or while waiting in the server queue. It’s not going to engross you for hours on end, but it’ll make the time go by in an amusing little fashion. While that’s not going to change the world, it’s not nothing.
Cooking Mama is a cheap game, with an MSRP of about $20. However, unless you’re an aspiring chef or minigames are really your bag, that’s 20 bucks you could drop on something more worthy of your gaming dollar.