As good as it gets?
Warning to those of you with new year’s resolutions to lose weight – this game will make you hungry. I craved a homemade club sandwich for days after my first time playing Cooking Mama: World Kitchen. With a household that is summarily against both pork and lunchmeats, I finally broke about three days into reviewing the game. I splurged and bought bacon, sliced turkey, and – horror of horrors – white bread in order to satisfy my craving. As a compromise I opted for alfalfa sprouts instead of lettuce, but this was not my healthiest meal of the year by any estimation. I promised myself that the club sandwich would be the last time I did that. Then I tried the chocolate chip cookie recipe.
[image1]For those familiar with the Cooking Mama franchise, you won’t be very surprised by anything you see in World Kitchen. If you’ve never played or heard of these games, then take off your shoes, slap on an apron, and get ready for the cutest and most encouraging culinary ride of your life. Officially, these games fall under the simulation category (a ‘cooking sim‘, if you want to sound like you really know what you’re talking about), but if I had my way, there would be a new genre: “strange Japanese games that bring pleasure and surprise to the mundane”. I’m sure the Japanese have a phrase for this, but with my limited knowledge of the language, mono no aware is as close as I can get. Just as Katamari Damacy made rolling a ball euphoric and Tamagotchis made the care and feeding of a pet fun, Cooking Mama: World Kitchen makes peeling potatoes actually enjoyable.
The ability to mimic real physical actions, a feature the Wii is known for, lends itself brilliantly to cooking. By holding the Wii remote in a variety of positions and following the arrows, players can peel, chop, stir, pat, knead, and season to their heart’s content. Simple food prep has never been so fun. Best of all, clean up is a snap!
[image2]Cooking Mama is at your side the entire time, offering helpful tips, encouraging words, and even competing in silly mini-games when things go wrong. Successful completion of a recipe is rewarded with a new recipe. Mini-games are also unlocked, and screenshots are recorded in a photo album as the game progresses. World Kitchen offers 51 recipes in all, and some are quite exotic. I went from hamburgers to chirashi zushi in a short amount of time. Have you ever separated a squid? Did you know if you do it incorrectly it will spill ink all over the cutting board? You would if you had this game!
I’d like to say that playing Cooking Mama: World Kitchen left me satisfied. I’d like to say it’s a well-rounded distraction. I’d love to say that using the controller was as easy as pie. Unfortunately, I can’t say any of those things. At its best, it left me hungry for more, and at its worst, I just wanted to push away from the table and ask to be excused. Before you begin the recipe, a description of the next task in the sequence is flashed on the screen, but once you’re in the midst of cooking, the description is not revealed again until the end.
[image3]This is a minor complaint, small potatoes compared to the larger shortcoming in the game: the poor controls. They simply don’t work sometimes. For all the game’s positive merits – and there are many – you can practically lose your lunch over bad controls. Each recipe is broken down into specific tasks, such as "chop the onion" or "prepare the sushi rice". There is a time limit for each of these, and the final score for each recipe depends on how well the separate tasks are performed. So if you’ve done all the difficult tasks flawlessly, filleting a fish and beheading a shrimp like an Iron Chef, and then you can’t fan the rice because the controller’s not cooperating, it’s frustrating. Due to lazy design, or just the wonky Wii, it’s out of your control, and nobody likes mushy rice in their sushi.
Being that this game really wasn’t designed with me in mind, I thought I might be judging too harshly. Not wanting to eat my words, I called upon my crack team of twelve year old girls. They loved it and it seemed to hold their attention for quite a while, and it’s all due to Cooking Mama herself. She is so charming. To be stuck in a kitchen all day, with inexperienced cooks and an annoying dog no less, and remain so positive… honestly I don’t know how she does it.
Even with the controller glitches, which seemed not to bother younger players so much anyway, it’s more fun with the Wii remote than with the DS stylus. If I had to choose between formats I’d go with the Wii, but if I already owned another version, I would pass on World Kitchen altogether. There’s just not enough new here to warrant another purchase. Besides mini-games, which really don’t add much, the remote is the only innovation. A sprinkling of real recipes for Nestle desserts puts the fun in functional. If only they’d put the functional back in functional controls, they’d have a winner.