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Watered Down…Like Orange Drink

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Games you can play in a short amount of time and still accomplish something are what portable gaming is all about. Games like WarioWare exemplify this with their fast paced minigames. Cooking Mama takes on the same approach as WarioWare, by giving the player several minigames to play in succession, but adds the theme of cooking to give it all some purpose. Naturally, the stylus is used to cut, chop, stir and dice your ingredients into something delicious. But like a hot fudge steak, despite having fine ingredients, Cooking Mama does not come together to make a perfect experience.

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The concept is simple. You are given a large selection of dishes you can prepare from potato salad to pizza. Once you select a dish, you play a series of mostly quick minigames in order to prepare it.  Miso soup, for instance, starts with a game of chopping onions by tapping the knife quickly. Next you have to draw along the dotted lines on some tofu to slice it into cubes.  Eventually you’ll follow all the steps of making real soup.

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Individually, the minigames are satisfactory, with a few long and boring exceptions. In one game you wait for about ten seconds at a time before you have to raise or lower the heat on a stove, occasionally stirring the broth. Perhaps the makers were trying to test the player’s patience, which is understandably a part of cooking, but it’s not something I have when playing a quick game on my DS. On the other end of the spectrum is a game where you simply punch in a number on a microwave. It’s not fun, nor is it particularly challenging, but it completes the sense of making the dish yourself.

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If you mess up or don’t finish s game in time, you loose points, but Mama fixes the mistake and you go to the next step. So even if you screw up every step of the dish, the finished product always looks perfect. Though to be honest, I would prefer to see, for better or worse, how my food looked based on my performance. If I char my burger and spill my spaghetti on the floor, I don’t want to see a perfect finished product. I want to see a ruined pile of dirty food. It might even take the edge off of failing.

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When you finish a recipe, you get a grade and either a bronze, silver or gold medal. Completing recipes unlock new ones. You can even create recipes by combining two that you’ve made before. However, the game all boils down to the few dozen minigames, some of which are tedious, others practically pointless. One game has you waiting for ten seconds at a time to change the temperature of a stewing pot. It’s not challenging in the least, and takes a long time to finish. On the other end of the spectrum is a game where you have to type in the time for something to sit in the oven. I know it’s just supposed to give you the complete feeling of having made the dish yourself, but I still think there is a more fun way to do this.

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Other than being able to practice any minigame, or to send a demo to your friend’s DS, there isn’t much else to the game. There isn’t even a multiplayer mode, which is a real disappointment.

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To be perfectly blunt, I feel the game comes up short. There isn’t much to do other than play a small number of minigames and occasionally arrange the food you’ve made. Perhaps if the game linked together faster, it might provide a more authentic experience, but after each game, you stop and review the rules for the next thing you have to do. I’d rather just go right into it and make it a more authentic experience.

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While the game does something new and is perfect for a quick game session on the way to work or on a break, it lacks the potential to be anything more. Without any multiplayer or depth beyond cooking different dishes, I grew tired of this game quickly. If only it could teach me how to cook for real, then I’d probably spend more time with it.

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