In Cooking Mama you take the role of an apprentice chef to Mama, apparently the world's best female cook. There are a number of game modes to choose from and this is where the first problem pops up. There is no 'story' mode or campaign mode - it's basically "choose what you want to cook and cook it". The modes on offer however do allow you to cook dishes you have unlocked, combine two dishes to get extra points and the ability to send a demo to your friends to get them hooked on the game.
Once you actually do get into the gameplay, you will find yourself enthralled by the detail the developers have put into the title. Generally when you cook something there are a number of steps which need to be followed and these steps have translated quite well into the game. So for instance, to cook a stew you need to peel the onion, boil the water, prepare the meat and cook it all together. All these steps are broken into mini games.
The mini games are quite interesting and take a number of different forms. For instance to peel a piece of fruit, you use the stylus and drag the peeler, to boil the water, you follow a somewhat Dance Dance Revolution style game where getting timing right is crucial to a good dinner. When you have finished the dish, Mama gives you a ranking out of 100 which can unlock even more food for you to cook. Something which we found baffling was that the dishes towards the end of the game are easier to cook than the first few and it's not just because the gamer is more familiar with the style of game at that point.
In terms of what you can cook there is a lot of variety on offer here, ranging from something as simple as instant noodles through to large dishes with vegetables, meat and chips. While Cooking Mama does not have specific instructions for you to follow, should you want to try some of this outside of the game (which in our opinion is a huge missed opportunity), following the steps to an extent may help you cook the meals. Another problem with the game is the length. It's fun while it lasts but it doesn't take that long to unlock the 120 recipes on offer as some are 'offshoots' of other meals you can cook.
Visually the game is done quite well. Mama is a very cheerful anime style character who genuinely seems happy when you make top food. The top screen is used to give instructions, with the bottom used to actually perform the cooking. A cartoon style has been used although the food does look quite close to what you would expect in a restaurant when you have finished.
Cooking Mama has to be played, but doesn't have to be bought which leaves you with a problem. The game is so unique and original that DS owners have to play it, but the fact it's so short makes it not worth coughing up the cash for. Wait a few months for it to hit the bargain bins and you will find a gem, in what has been a lacking time for the DS.
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