Cooking Mama

"Cooking is like making love, you do it well, or you do not do it at all" – Harriet van Horne

Time Played – 3 Hours :: Completed? – Nope :: Hungry While Playing? – YES

To say that I'm a bad cook is an understatement of the highest degree. Other people joke about burning toast, while I hang my head in shame. "There's a knob on the toaster," my girlfriend will say, while staring at the blackened slices of bread in front of her. "It's only got a few settings. How can you consistently pick the wrong one?"

It's not a flaw, I tell myself. It's just a very useless talent.

So for someone with my culinary prowess, playing Cooking Mama is almost like a journey to another world. A world where putting a cutting board and a knife in my hand doesn't lead to a trip to the emergency room, where all the vegetables are fresh and never have a strange smell to them. It's escapism of the highest form, a chance for me to experience the joys of cooking without the heartbreak of reality creeping in. Or food poisoning.

The other reason to play Cooking Mama is that it's portable. Once again my job, evil thief of free time that it is, has enveloped me in its icy, corporate embrace. I don't have these fancy next-generation consoles the kids yammer incessantly about, and have no time to rock out with Guitar Hero 2. I need something to play in-between TPS reports, and so far this hits the spot.

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Click to enlarge.

The first thing to note is that Cooking Mama is weird. Leave your preconceptions at the door. This is one of those niche games whose concept must have seemed weird on paper, and it certainly wouldn't have made it past that stage on any platform other than the Nintendo DS. Reviewers have described the game as a collection of minigames, and there's truth to that. But much like cooking in real life, the good stuff is in the sum of its parts.

Your hostess is Mama, what I imagine a cute anime version of Aunt Jemima would be like. She may have enormous eyes and a big toothy smile, but beneath her youthful visage hides a talent for down-home cookin'. I guess. You never actually see Mama make anything, since you spend the game doing all the hard work. I imagine that Mama and the Floaty Zombie Doctor from Brain Age get together on weekends for drinks and cheap stabs at our old brains and shoddy cooking.

The game works like a culinary class at a community college. Select a recipe and Mama will walk you through the preparation steps. Each step is a minigame; chop this cucumber, boil this stew, mix these ingredients, grill this meat. The minigames are all built around the stylus, making steps like shaping meatballs or slicing tomatoes feel a lot like you're using your hands. Mama will grade your progress after each step, and then your final dish will receive a score and a medal. Wash the rice perfectly and you'll put a twinkle in Mama's eye. Burn the pork chop and Mama will fly into a rage, evidenced by fire in her eyes. "Don't worry," the game says. "Mama will fix it."

Apparently, Mama gets angry when she has to cook. Mama is lazy.

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Clicky!

The minigames that make up each cooking step range from duh-inducing to obtuse. Chopping an onion with the stylus is easy enough to understand and feels gratifying. Weighing meat for meatballs, on the other hand, has turned into a frustrating experience. Mama throws 600 grams of what I can only assume to be hamburger on the scale, and tells you to remove some of the meat by circling small portions. Make your circles too small and you won't remove any meat at all; too big, and you lose too much. If you don't get it exactly at 300 grams, the wrath of Mama flows like the blood of the infidels, and I'll be damned if I can accomplish it. Sometimes I think Mama is too demanding.

There's also a heavy focus on Asian cuisine, although that shouldn't be a surprise. I've unlocked such American staples as the sandwich and pizza, but the majority of recipes involve making rice, slicing bamboo shoots, or yanking the tentacles off squid. I'm a fan of Asian cuisine, and nothing says yummy like sliced octopus, but I'm not sure my mother even knows what udon is, let alone wants to eat it. Scratch that Christmas present off the list. I've only spent a few hours with the game, and there's 76 recipes total, so I know I'll get around to making the Salisbury steak soon. It's just that all of the sushi and stir-fry adds even more to the heavy Japanese influence, which may turn people off.

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Go on, click me.

Not me, though. Cooking Mama is a title I plan to enjoy. In many ways it's the antithesis of a Final Fantasy game "… you don't spend hours with it, but minutes. Most of the recipes I've finished have resulted in silver medals, with spurs me on to keep trying for the gold. Cooking Mama is a lot like WarioWare, another game I'm unabashedly in love with, in that its simplicity is its draw. I may not spend ten consecutive hours with this game, but I wouldn't be surprised if I keep coming back to it a year from now. Cooking Mama may not turn me into the next Julia Child, but it'll keep me feeling like a gamer when I'm drowning in paperwork.

Cooking Mama
Offical Site
September 2006 (NDS)
Majesco Entertainment

Comments

Someone mind pointing Mex in the direction of this game?

I just pictured Mex putting the moves on Mama.

"Don't worry, Mama will fix it."

Hawt.

Seriously GWJ. I have no more money. Stop liking new games.

Have you actually learned something applicable irl through Hot Cooking Momma? Like, don't set your toaster above "3"?

Darn it, I thought this would be about how to cook mamas.

I wonder if this will teach some techniques for preparing all those juicy Locust gibs from GoW.

Mmmm.... Locust...

Harriet Van Horne doesn't sound very bright. Done poorly or well, making love is still pretty sweet. Worst analogy . . . evar.

And if they did a version of this game for Italian food and switched out Mama with that Gaeta De Laurentis chick from Everyday Italian, I'm there.

Gaeta De Laurentis chick from Everyday Italian

The way she bounces while chopping is hypnotic.

Funkenpants wrote:

And if they did a version of this game for Italian food and switched out Mama with that Gaeta De Laurentis chick from Everyday Italian, I'm there.

It's Giada, not Gaeta. Someone's been watching too much Battlestar Galactica.

Nice review/perspective/whatever, Demi. As per usual. I'd been eyeing this game before it came up, I might have to pick it up now.

CannibalCrowley wrote:

Darn it, I thought this would be about how to cook mamas.

Yeah, what kind of review doesn't even tell us what mama tastes like when cooked?

I actually rented this game (and I never rent DS games) because as very cool and innovative as the idea sounded, I just wasn't sold on it. I played this game for five minutes, my girlfriend played it for five minutes and I immediately stuck it back in the Game Access envelope, walked across the street to Future Shop and bought it. Basically because we didn't want to spend too long playing the rented version and then lose ou progress when we sent it back. Anyone who complains about the lack of innovative titles in the market should definitely try this out.

Demiurge is right in that it does feel like a colleciton of minigames, but this makes for a fantastic portable experience as the recipies can be completed quickly which allows for a quick pick-up-and-play session when you've only got a few minutes to spare. I regularly play short spurts of this game at customer's houses while waiting for a large Windows Update to complete. I also find replaying the same recipies over again worthwhile as they are still fun after multiple playthroughs and you do unlock extra stuff by getting more gold medals. Most games I will usually just not touch a level again if I can at least get a pass, but I'm determined to get perfect on all these.

There is apparently a Wii version of this slated for 2007 which is also going to be fantastic. If you're looking for something new and cool, definitely at least rent this. But it has enough content that I'd definitely say it's worht picking up if you've got the coin to spare.

Isn't udon a type of cabbage?

Noodle.

Ah, that's right. My fault.

I played this game briefly but I just couldn't get into it even though it's super cute. I think it's because I was expecting more than just a "play during a break from work" type of game.

KaterinLHC wrote:

It's Giada, not Gaeta. Someone's been watching too much Battlestar Galactica. :)

Dang. And I was proud because I thought I had the spelling right.

Desram wrote:

Seriously GWJ. I have no more money. Stop liking new games.

Let's all sit and watch Desram struggle with temptation:
Did you know it's a budget title, ie $20? Or that Mama makes a great cup of Hot Coffee? The way you satisfy her demands in that mini-game is by moving the stylus in not a clockwise, but counter clockwise swirl.

Moving on. I was going to purchase this but I'm going to hold out for the Wii version. It's got an Iron Chef-ish multiplayer mode.

McChuck wrote:

Did you know it's a budget title, ie $20?

DAMN YOU!!! Now i have to re-buy my girlfriend a DS lite so i can get her this and the sudoku puzzle game for christmas... How am i going to be able to afford that old-fashioned typewriter i was going to surprise her with now? Eh?

Stylez wrote:
Gaeta De Laurentis chick from Everyday Italian

The way she bounces while chopping is hypnotic.

I can't watch Giada de Laurentiis. I keep thinking she's going to fall over from the size of her enormous cranium. Seriously, her bobblehead doll would actually be nearly proportional.

On topic: I love the idea of this game, and it's definitely on the (admittedly very long) list of games I want to get when I get a DS. It reminds me of a demo that was on a Playstation demo disc I got years ago, but surely a lot easier what with the touch screen and all.

dhelor wrote:

I can't watch Giada de Laurentiis. I keep thinking she's going to fall over from the size of her enormous cranium.

She's so bubbly and happy while making easy to prepare italian dishes for a gathering of her dearest friends it's easy to look past the big noggin. What gets me is the really close up shots from below when she's got the spoon out, tasting the food. The interior of Giada's nostrils=not appetizing.

Allez Cuisine!

You know what they say about pretty big headed women who cook Italian food...