Cooking Mama Exclusive Preview - Hot in the Kitchen

We commune with a small Japanese woman on the DS in Majesco's quirky cooking sim.

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If you've ever wondered what it would be like to live the fast-paced and exciting life of a cook specializing in Japanese cuisine, Majesco's upcoming Cooking Mama is the game for you. The unique cooking sim was developed by Taito and released earlier this year in Japan. The title doesn't waste much energy on trying to craft a story about you working to be the best chef in the all of Japan, or anything along those lines. The premise is best summed up as "Let's cook with mama!" We did just that recently, when we got a localized version of the game to play around with to test our culinary stylus skills.

You'll find two flavors of cooking modes in the game, Let's Cook! and Let's Combine!. In Let's Cook! you make a dish from a selection of available recipes. You'll find only a handful of dishes initially selectable in your repertoire. As you successfully create dishes, more will unlock, allowing you to make more lavish spreads. Let's Combine! lets you try your hand at culinary fusion, no matter how frightening. The mode plays out much like Let's Cook! but with one addition--you'll be able to make a fusion of any two dishes you choose. Aside from the two gameplay modes, Cooking Mama will support Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to share recipes and data with friends as well as a demo.

Cooking Mama's gameplay is a basic, minigame-style collection of tasks you'll have to go through to create the various dishes. For better or worse, this means you'll be going through a fairly realistic step-by-step process that includes getting the right mix of rice and water to make simple rice, cutting up all the ingredients that go into dumplings, as well as blowing into the DS microphone to cool off your food. While most are easy, some require a bit of skill and timing, such as properly sautéing noodles, that will require some practice. Thankfully you'll be able to practice making a recipe before trying the real thing. This winds up being pretty useful, as you'll earn a rating after each dish you make; so anyone hoping to earn top marks across the board will want to hone their skills before actually cooking.

The visuals in the game keep things basic. You'll be looking at assorted pots, foods, and cooking utensils for the most part. You'll use the touch screen to interact with all of the above while following instructions and cues on the top screen. When you complete recipes you'll be treated to a view of your dish and mama's pleased reactions. If you blow it, prepare to see one angry, fiery-eyed lady glaring back at you.

Neapolitan spaghetti is pretty gross, dude.
Neapolitan spaghetti is pretty gross, dude.

The audio is pretty sparse, keeping to simple tunes and assorted cooking noises. Given the sometimes hectic nature of the more complicated recipes, it would have been nice to hear some voice thrown into the mix. Sadly, aside from completion themes at the end of each recipe, mama is a pretty silent presence in the game. Still, what's here gets the job done and certainly fits the theme.

Based on what we played, Cooking Mama is a goofy game that has some charm to it. The assorted minigames are basic and easy to pick up. Obviously there's a lot of repetition involved but, taken as tests of skill you're trying to get the best score for completing, there's an addictive quality to the experience. Given the game's somewhat bare-bones offering in terms of modes, it's nice to see that Cooking Mama will carry a lower-than-average price for a DS game, $20, which should make it an enticing impulse-buy. Cooking Mama is currently slated to ship this September for the DS.

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