This isn’t what I ordered at all.
I’ve never heard anyone say, "I don’t like eating." I think we can all agree that food is, well, a good thing. However for most of us, that doesn’t quite cover it. Everyone gets passionate about food once in a while, and one of the quickest ways to indulge that interest is to flip on the Food Network. It’s entertaining, instructional, and if nothing else, it gets you in the mood to eat. Even if the celebrity-chef antics of clowns-for-hire like Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri are off-putting, there are plenty of talented chefs and varied shows that many enjoy.
[image1]On the other hand, licensed properties have a tendency to be unoriginal, half-assed cash-ins. So, it was not without a certain amount of cautious optimism that I sat down to play Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked.
The heart of the experience is a series of repetitive cooking mini-games strung together, a la Cooking Mama. The addition of a time-management mechanic adds a layer of complexity. Because you’re preparing several components with different cooking times simultaneously, there is a small amount of planning and multi-tasking required to ensure that the dishes are completed at the same time, so that they all remain hot enough to serve. Although there’s not much innovation here, the Cooking Mama franchise has gained a certain following, so who’s to say a knockoff–an homage, if you’re being kind–combined with the Food Network’s allure might not end up being enjoyable?
It’s not. I should have known better.
Let’s walk through how this game does everything it can to let you down. How about we start with the box? In addition to bearing a title that sounds like some sort of cannibalism simulator, it proclaims: "Includes 30+ Food Network Recipes!". Really? 30 whole recipes? Even if that were true, it wouldn’t exactly be something to brag about–other entries in the cooking genre include literally hundreds of recipes. The problem is, they’re counting every component of a meal towards this total. Even if you accept that the steamed asparagus garnish on a steak deserves its own set of instructions (as in "boil some water, add asparagus"), there’s certainly no justification for the sauce on the steak to count individually.
[image2]The actual number of individual meals you cook is 12. This includes groundbreaking recipes like "Pancakes With Bacon", "Eggs and Bacon", "Quesadillas", and the aforementioned "A Steak". But at less than ten minutes of actual play time per meal, you can complete all of the "levels" in under two hours.
The meal planning and time-management aspects of the gameplay are interesting and realistic. Timing your dishes so that they hit the table piping hot is one of the cornerstones of good cooking. But here, all this boils down to is waiting for several minutes before preparing dishes that take less time to complete. Beyond that, there are only the mini-games themselves–which are a joke due to imprecise controls and seemingly arbitrary timing. At least Cooking Mama gives you a "3, 2, 1…" before the beginning of every task. Here, you are left to flail wildly, hoping that your actions will sync with the desired input.
What about that inimitable Food Network blend of entertaining personalities and useful knowledge? Surely the addition of some likable hosts would liven up the proceedings. Unfortunately, your only companions on this culinary adventure are two Food Network corporate executives who barely qualify as celebrity chefs. While I’m sure they are fine people (one is an experienced chef with a few recipe books out, and the other is, um, VP of Marketing), they’ve been compelled by the developers to record some pretty grating dialogue. Either imparting useless cooking tips ("Don’t overcook that!") or berating you, especially when you are too slow to start chopping whatever you’re chopping, they’re like an angel and a devil perched on your shoulders, whispering in your ear. Only instead of an angel and devil, it’s two overbearing perfectionists with a tendency towards non sequiturs.
These two also function as judges of your final product. Through a bizarre conceit of the game, in which they’ve entered your kitchen via your TV, they’re rendered as being about six inches tall, which leads to the unintentionally hilarious sight of two rat-sized food critics sampling hamburgers larger than themselves. A medal is awarded based on the quality of your performance, accompanied by oddly exaggerated animated reactions that range from gagging on the floor (no medal) to something that looks vaguely like a mannequin having an orgasm (gold medal).
[image3]The less said about the graphics, the better. Suffice it to say, when the dish you’re preparing resembles a bowl of bloody shrapnel, it’s difficult to feel like you’re doing all that well.
Despite all this–the iffy controls and annoying banter, the lack of variety, the gruesome piles of polygons masquerading as food–there is a short period of fun between when you finally master the idiosyncrasies of the controls and when you complete the game. Unfortunately by "short", I mean a period of around two hours, in which it is possible to master each recipe to perfection.
The multiplayer adds next to zero replay value. Cooperative mode simply has you handing off the Wii-mote between every menial step, and the competitive multiplayer is little more than an arbitrary comparison of whose Wii-mote misinterpreted the greater number of haphazard waggles.
Although it seemed like there was some promise here, all the Food Network branding in the world can’t hide the fact that Food Network: Cook or be Cooked just isn’t worth your money. I’d say it wasn’t worth your time, but considering how short it is, that’s not really an issue.