Late last year, Majesco brought us Cooking Mama for the DS. A collection of cooking-themed minigames, Cooking Mama was a game that made great use of the DS's touch-screen technology but, unfortunately, failed to find a way to structure its various cooking games into something compelling over the long haul. Now, Cooking Mama has found its way to the Wii in Cooking Mama: Cook Off, and that same primary criticism holds true here as well. However, far worse an issue is that the added motion-sensing controls aren't nearly as engaging as the control scheme used on the DS, nor are they reliably responsive. And to top it all off, while the game adds a multiplayer component to the package, it hardly justifies a full $50 price tag for a game that is ultimately shallow and kind of boring after a couple of hours of play.
If you ever got around to playing Cooking Mama on the DS, Cook Off's formula should be immediately familiar. The main mode presents you with a series of unlocked dishes that require a series of quick, simple minigames to put you through the paces of food preparation. One dish, for instance, might require you to chop a variety of vegetables, butter up a frying pan, grind up some meat, and then toss it all together into the pan while you stir, shake, and spice it. All of these actions are controlled with basic motions on the Wii Remote. Chopping vegetables, for instance, requires you to point the remote at a designated icon on the chosen vegetable and make a slicing motion in the direction it signifies. If the veggies need to be minced from there, you simply start making a fast chopping motion with the remote. The pan-buttering game has you tilting the remote around as if it were the pan itself, and the cube of butter slides around slicking up the pan's interior. Meat grinding has you holding the remote sideways like the handle of a meat grinder, and spinning it as quickly and forcefully as you can. It goes on like this with a wide variety of ingredients and tasks spanning 55 different dishes. At the end of each task, Mama, a bright-eyed, Engrish-speaking anime chef, grades you on your performance and assigns a score based on accuracy and how much time you took.
Cooking Mama seems like it ought to work just as well on the Wii as it did on the DS, but multiple problems prevent this from being so. For starters, the motion controls just aren't reliable. Some are overly sensitive, as in the egg-cracking minigame that can't quite seem to decide how much remote-tilting force is too much, and some aren't sensitive enough, such as the stirring and rolling pin games that require extremely exaggerated movements to register properly. Even the games that seem the most consistent aren't 100 percent guaranteed to work. As shallow as the DS version of Cooking Mama was, at the very least the controls worked pretty much exactly how you wanted them to. The same can't be said for Cook Off.
One thing Cook Off has over the DS game is that the recipes generally include lengthier strings of minigames. Most of the minigames can still be beaten in 30 seconds or less, but these longer recipes do at least make the process of making a dish feel a bit more involved. Unfortunately, Cook Off can't shake the shallow feel of the DS game. Like Cooking Mama on the DS, Cook Off isn't paced very well. Each time you complete a minigame, you're spit back out into the main menu for that dish, and you have to manually click on the next minigame to progress. Half the fun of an oddball minigame collection like this is how the games are presented in terms of challenge, and here there's very little. Unlike something along the lines of WarioWare: Smooth Moves, there's no unpredictable element to Cooking Mama. You pretty much know exactly which minigame is coming up, and odds are you've probably played some form of it already in one of the previous recipes, so you already know what to do. The greatest challenge the game has to offer is getting a grip on the controls. There's no challenge to be found within the recipes themselves.
It's to the game's benefit, then, that it includes multiplayer support. You and a friend can compete in split-screen mode to try to complete any of the various dishes by competing to finish each minigame the quickest and with the most accuracy. Like the single-player component, your grades tally up into a final score, and the one with the highest score at the end is the winner. As you might expect, this type of gameplay is considerably better when played against others, as there's actually a legit sense of challenge. The problem is that because the controls aren't fully reliable, there are times where you'll screw up just because the remote wasn't responding the right way, which is more than a little frustrating. There's also a CPU versus mode that provides the same basic multiplayer against a computer opponent, which is OK if you're friendless.
Cooking Mama hasn't seen much presentational alteration since its DS days. The graphics are the same brand of cartoony, colorful still shots with little 3D renderings of some of the ingredients and utensils where required. By no means does the game look awful or anything. It's roughly on par with how Trauma Center looked when it made the jump from DS to the Wii, in that the art style is nice enough but the game isn't anything you would call "impressive." There's a bit more audio to be heard in the Wii version of Cooking Mama. Mama herself actually talks now, and though she has only a few key phrases (some of which are practically indecipherable due to an extremely thick Japanese accent), she's a cheery presence that adds to the game's cute factor. The soundtrack is also exceedingly upbeat, but not in an obnoxious way.
It's unfortunate that the developer of Cooking Mama: Cook Off didn't improve upon the original DS game's formula for the Wii release. Instead of actually tweaking or improving the game design, the developer left the same stagnant progression intact. While one might argue that the key focus of this version was to make the Wii controls work, the sad fact is that they don't--at least, not on a consistent basis. Nothing about Cook Off, save for the inclusion of basic multiplayer, is an improvement over what Cooking Mama offered on the DS. Perhaps if Cook Off were a budget-priced title, it might be worth a look simply for some of its cutesy charm and multiplayer competition; but at a full $50 price, Cooking Mama: Cook Off isn't worth it.