Early in its life, the DS saw a glut of cash-in shovelware as developers realized that they could churn out cheap “casual” games and make a killing on them. One of the better casual games for the DS was Cooking Mama, because it actually had good gameplay and fleshed out a fun concept that you didn’t see in games too much. Cooking Mama was not without its flaws, however; a lot of the gameplay was pretty limited, and the whole package felt a little light on content. A Wii version came out later, but it didn’t quite get the motion controls right. Developer Office Create has stepped back into the digital kitchen and whipped up Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends to satisfy gamers with heftier appetites, and I’ll try to get through this review with a minimum of food analogies.
After the slightly awkward controls in Cook Off for the Wii, Office Create went back to the DS to make a proper sequel. The game follows the same basic principle of the first one—quick, rapid-fire minigames in the tradition of Warioware, but with a cooking theme. Each of these minigames is a separate step in a larger recipe, and messing up even a few will lead to inedible food. The minigames are the integral gameplay, and all of the different modes are different takes on the basic formula.
The first game mode, and the biggest mainstay from the first game, is “cooking with Mama,” which is basically free play. You work your way up the recipes, unlocking new ones as you go. You can also practice each step independently from the whole recipe, so if you have a hard time getting that blender minigame right, you can replay it until you master it.
You are constantly under the watchful eye of the Cooking Mama, and she’ll rate your culinary ability. Each individual task within a recipe receives a rating; gold (great job), silver (decent) or bronze (you screwed up, Mama has to fix it). Mama’s corresponding reactions are back from the first game, which means you can still cower under the fury of Mama’s flaming eyes.
In this mode, you can play through (and unlock) every recipe in the game, in addition to a large number of extra goodies. The only way to get everything, however, is to play the “let’s cook” mode. This is where the “dinner with friends” concept comes in. In this mode you can cook for Mama again, or several of her friends, but without the option to practice. This mode is do or die cooking—a single bronze level mistake in any of the tasks, and you fail the recipe completely. Needless to say, it’s a good idea to practice these recipes in free play before doing them live, so to speak. The friends have different tastes, so each one will have a select few recipes that they want you to cook. They all seem to like American style food though, as Cooking Mama 2 has a distinctly American flavor compared to the first game’s predominantly Japanese menu. This might upset fans of Eastern cuisine, but I like the added variety.
Regardless of the mode you choose to play in, the gameplay is pretty similar to the first game. The tasks range from stirring to sifting, chopping to tossing, each accomplished with simple touch screen taps and scribbles. Newcomers will be surprised by the precision this game takes; an errant stylus stroke could mess up a whole task. Each task must be carried out with a balance of speed and accuracy—slow and steady and you’ll run out of time, fast and sloppy and you’ll make a mess of your kitchen. For instance, I accidentally chucked the rolling pin across the room in a bout of frenzied cookie making.
Aside from the friends theme, there isn’t a whole lot that feels new. The graphics are just as excessively bright and cheerful as ever (some might say acid-trip inspired), and the music carries the same bouncy, 1950’s cooking show vibe as before. There are small voice clips for each rating (a practice introduced in the Wii game), and these clips are performed with a heavy Japanese accent—adds a little more cultural charm, if you ask me.
Cooking with Friends does make two additions to the series (at least on DS) to justify its sequel status. The first is multiplayer. While the original Cooking Mama had only a downloadable demo, the sequel lets you play with a friend in a wide variety of cooking tasks. You and a friend compete to finish the task first, and once somebody wins, it’s on to the next task. Unfortunately, you’re just completing random tasks. You’ll peel an apple or crack eggs into a bowl, but you are only working to finish that single task, not to complete a whole recipe. Cook Off on the Wii let two players prepare the same recipes simultaneously, and compare overall scores, so the much lighter multiplayer in Dinner with Friends is a bit of a let-down. Maybe the developers kept it simple so four players could compete over download play, but I would’ve appreciated a more robust multi-card play option.
The other thing Cooking Mama 2 adds is a heaping helping of extras. This game’s cupboards are packed with little odds and ends for you to win—you can barely complete a recipe without a shower of fireworks and a new unlockable appearing. Nearly all of these goodies are used to customize the game. You can unlock new kitchens, utensils, clocks, color schemes and even new outfits for Mama. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the Japanese fascination with dress-up, but if you wanted to see Mama in a kimono or a cheerleader costume, Cooking Mama 2 gives you that option. If you wanted, you could even have her cooking in a gothic castle with a lime green counter top while wearing a stylish evening gown.
I hate to say that the rather light multiplayer and the cornucopia of bonus goodies are the only things Cooking Mama 2 brings to the table, but unfortunately it’s true. That doesn’t cheapen the rest of the game, though. The gameplay and appearance might be about the same, but the recipes are a little more fun this time and overall it’s a more complete package. The concept is still pretty original, and to my surprise the game was decently challenging. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was hooked for a few weeks, and found it difficult to pass this game off to my sister and lose all my save data. Dinner with Friends is a good buy for fans of the first game, and for people just getting started with Cooking Mama, it’s a better entry point than the original.
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