Cooking Mama (DS)

Are you ready to take to the virtual kitchen? Pick up your pots and pans, assemble your ingredients and prepare to brave the world of Cooking Mama, where no recipe is too complex and no procedure too daring in the pursuit of that perfectly baked recipe? Can you prove yourself as skilled as Mama?

Everything from farm simulations to fireworks display games has come under scrutiny here at Azure Flame, but now the time has come to take cooking out of the kitchen and put it back where it belongs- in a handheld gaming console. In fact, there is a recipe book ‘game’ for DS, but when it comes to something you can actually play, what other choice is there than the Cooking Mama series?

Rather than having any specific sort of level plan to follow, the object of Cooking Mama is simply to cook the Japanese-style recipes available to you, unlocking more in the process (there’s also an option to combine different recipes, which I like to use to formulate the most bizarre combinations in an attempt to ‘break’ the game). Each recipe is broken down into a series of processes, each of which can be considered as its own little mini-game, all of them dependent on the touch screen, and occasionally the inbuilt microphone as well. Use your stylus to chop, cut, peel, drain, grate, fry and boil- but make you sure you don’t overcook the food or run of time, because an irate Mama will brand you a failure in the kitchen.

Don’t worry if you can’t get the hang of a recipe, however, because as well as being able to make it ‘for real’, you can use practise mode to repeat any of the stages in the process that you find difficult. And getting it right isn’t just for perfectionists, because the better you do, the more points you get at the end. And if even that isn’t enough for you, you can also use the “Use Skill” option to test your limits at the different skills in the game- with some of the higher levels seeming impossible for any human to achieve. Yes, you may think you’re the fastest with the stylus, but if you’re too fast, the game won’t register it- you have to find the right balance between speed, pressure and some indefinable skill that makes the game accept your faster presses.

Even with that in the mind, the game is great fun to start with, laced with an addictiveness that will have the entire family arguing over who gets to play next. Unfortunately, as with all games of this type, Cooking Mama just doesn’t have the staying power- there’s only so many times you can chop, peel and add ingredients before it all gets boring and repetitive. And once the prospect of unlocking more recipes has died away, there’s little incentive to continue.

Although the game’s claim that you can share recipes with friends had me believing that there was a full online mode, it is somewhat misleading- all you can do is send a one-recipe demo to another DS, which in my case was a hamburger recipe with all the instructions in Italian (“Prepara una hamburger”). This is somewhat disappointing, but perhaps not unsurprising.

Final Thoughts

Although Cooking Mama starts out as being great fun, it’s a game that soon loses its lustre due to its simplistic and repetitive nature. I’m hoping that the second game has more variety, but for now this first instalment in the series is good for brief diversions, and little more.

Extra: the cooking process

Tear: Pull the leaves off your vegetable one by one, but be careful as if you do it too quickly, the game will decide you’ve failed.

Chop: Keep tapping the knife to chop- this is one of the skills where it won’t register properly if you do it too quickly.

Cut: More tedious and difficult than chopping, this time have to move the stylus up and down to make the knife saw off slices. You have be thorough to get the slice cut off, but of course time is against you.

Add: Add the ingredients in the order shown- it sounds easy and it usually is, but bear in mind that the picture of the ingredient to add starts out jumbled up and only gradually becomes clear.

Grate: Move the vegetable back and forth on the grater and tap occasionally to shake off excess- generally easy except in the higher levels of the “Use Skill” mode.

Fold dumplings: Add the filling to a sheet of pastry, then fold over and finish the edges- one of my favourite tasks for the round sheets, but for some reason it’s difficult to fold up the square ones.

Cut tendon: A memorisation game- see where the game shows you to cut the meat, and then draw lines where indicated. It’s usually easy enough outside of “Use Skill” mode, especially as if you try to cut in the wrong place, nothing will appear.

Pan-fry and stew: These two skills are Parappa the Rapper style game play, as you add ingredients, adjust the heat, stir, press, flip and blow into the microphone with precise timing. For some reason, stewing is easier than pan-frying, although a single mistake can cause failure.

Pound the rice: Hit the rice with the mallet, but make sure not to hit the hand that’s folding it, or you’ll slow right down and lose time.

Crack an egg: Hit the egg against the bowl and then pour it in- straightforward if you keep your cool.

Tenderise meat: Hit the meat with the tenderiser- easy and stress relieving.

Peel shrimp, egg, beansprout: Move the shrimp’s head up and down and then peel off the outer layer, tap the egg to remove the shell or wiggle the end of the beansprout back and forth to break off the tip. Since you usually have to prepare more than one in the time limit, you have to get into the flow of it.

Place on stick: Memorise the example kebab the game shows you, and then make one exactly the same- it’s like that old Mastermind game.

Charcoal grill: Tap the fans to move the hot air over the kebabs as they drop in, but make sure to tap them when they’re cooked just right, or they’ll go away undercooked or burnt. Fun, but a bit hectic.

Cook amount told: A simple addition and memorisation exercise- Mama gives you three numbers, and you cook their sum. All you have to do it place the right number in the pan- the actual cooking is taken care of automatically.

Peel vegetables: One of the harder skills, you have to run the potato peeler over the vegetable, but it’s very difficult to get the game to register what you’re doing- you need slow and steady strokes in the right place, and all the while time is running out. Probably my least favourite part of the game.

Bread: Roll the food in breadcrumbs, but be sure to tap it vigorously or it won’t pick up enough breadcrumbs. Easy once you get the knack of it.

Riceballs, sushi, meatballs, stuffing: Make sure to pick the right amount out of the mix for each ball by circling it with the stylus- too small or large and Mama won’t be impressed.

Peel hot: Quickly peel the skin off a potato before your hand gets too hot.

Roll out dough: Move the rolling pin back and forth to fill the frame, but don’t spill out over the edges.

Remove foam: Draw round the foam at the edge of the pot to remove it- easy at first but it gets harder in Use Skill mode.

Weigh: Weigh out the right amount by circling the excess to remove it- it sounds easy, but you have a limited amount of goes to get it right.

Sauté: There are actually two types of sautéing- one which involves constantly flipping the food to make sure it doesn’t burn and another in which you must add ingredients with different cooking times in the right order so that they’re all perfectly cooked at the same time. The first is very difficult to get right since most of the time the food burns, whilst the latter is a mix of guesswork and common sense as you’re not told how long each food takes to cook.

Oven cook: Probably the simplest process in the game- Mama tells you how long to set the oven timer, and you set it.

Drain: Tip the pan to strain the food into the sieve, but be careful- too slow and you won’t get it all done in time, too fast and the food will go flying.

Takoyaki: Pour the right amount of batter into the small holes in the special frying pan, then circle each takoyaki to take it out when cooked. A fast and hectic process.

Arrange: Arrange your finished food on the plate with any side salad or draw a picture on your omelette with sauce. It’s virtually impossible to go wrong, unless you forget to put your food on the plate.

Mix: Draw circles to spin the bowl and mix the ingredients, but make sure the gauge is in the green area when the time runs out- get too vigorous and you’ll fail as it all goes spinning out of control.

Slice: Draw a line where the game tells you to slice vegetables and meat- very easy and straightforward.

Knead: Draw lines where the arrows tell you until the meter is full- another easy process.

Coat: Roll foods in flour, rotate them in butter and then put them on a plate- multiple tasks in one process can make the timing tight on this one.

Deep fry: Drop the food in the deep fryer, wait until it floats to the top and browns a bit, and then put it on the plate. There’s no time limit so you can do one at a time (recommended), but it is possible to drop the food and lose it forever.