Masterchef may have left our TV screens, but its spirit is alive and well in this follow-up to last year’s Cooking Mama: Cook-off. Mama, the adorable chef with the impenetrable accent is back in the kitchen, serving up new-look 3D graphics alongside 51 fresh international recipes ranging from hamburgers to tempura.
World Kitchen can be played in two modes. ‘Cook With Mama’ is the game’s tutorial mode, although it gives little actual tutelage, leaving much of the gameplay to trial and error. Cooking actions such as dicing vegetables, mixing batter and filleting fish are carried out using one of 8 basic Wiimote gestures indicated in the bottom left of the screen. Even in tutorial mode, however, it took us quite a long time to figure out what the underlying aim was in each case. Timing, size and strength are key to success here, and it took quite a few attempts to get the hang of some of the gestures. Levels are timed, so there’s little for error even in the training stages, which was frustrating at first.
In this mode, Mama stays watchfully by your side, offering words of encouragement like “Don’t give up,” and “A little bit!” (which had us scratching our heads rather – a little bit of what?) If all goes wrong and you end up with sea bream flying through the air, she’ll leap in to help you in one of the new minigames – control Mama successfully with tilts and waggles and she will catch your flying fish for you. Get it wrong, and your dinner will end up in the dog. It’s nice that what the game calls “happy accidents” don’t always lead to dining disaster, but these minigames can sometimes feel a bit faffy to play.
Cooking techniques often seem a little arbitrary, too – we can’t recall the last time we put together a club sandwich by tilting each layer without toppling the pile (isn’t it more usual to bung them together by brute force?) and we’re sure most kebabs aren’t fashioned by impaling ingredients on a skewer as they fall from the ceiling. Still, once you’ve got the hang of the general gameplay, you’ll soon be unlocking new recipes and earning medals from Mama, and it will be time to demonstrate your culinary flair to your friends.
In ‘Let’s Cook!’ mode, you have the opportunity to show off your dazzling new dishes to one of eight unlockable in-game friends. Here, you’re on your own – Mama won’t bail you out if your dough doesn’t rise or the octopus won’t cooperate. (Yes, there really is an uncooperative octpus to contend with.) If your attempt at cookery fails in this mode, your friend will simply turn on their heel and walk out, leaving you to weep into your sweet potato soufflé. But if you perform well and they enjoy their meal, new friends will appear hoping for a taste of your goodies.
And that, really, is it as far as the game goes. You can practice your slicing and dicing to get a better score from Mama and a happier smile from your friends, and unlock more complex recipes that call for tricky peeled shrimp and sushi rice; but the game really consists only of cook-serve-score. Once we’d achieved the satisfying feeling of working out what the game wanted us to do in each level, there wasn’t much in the way of longevity or replay value. New recipes might offer exotic new ingredients, but as many of the cooking steps (slice an onion, mix ingredients in a bowl) are the same each time, there’s not a great deal of variety to the different levels.
Multiplayer activity is also very limited. There’s a co-operative mode in the ‘Cooking Contest’ mode, in which you and a friend can try to complete a single recipe step (like mashing veggies or pouring liquid) in the fastest possible time, but otherwise this is a game for one.
Visuals are cute and colourful, if a little on the animé side for some tastes, and the music is hummably catchy without being maddening. Overall, Cooking Mama 2 is well-made, charming fun with a lot of appeal for younger players but not much in the way of sophisticated gameplay for adults. Still, it beats watching that sniffy pair of presenters on the BBC hands down.
Cooking Mama 2: World Kitchen is out now.