Support Andy, click to buy via us...
Everyone's favourite cooking Mama returns with a sequel, but the game fails to connect the dots and instead turns itself into a disconnected experience. Although each recipe collects together a unique set of activities, they never quite make the jump from mini-game to something more coherent.
Second time around for Cooking Mama makes me realise just how much weight and expectation had been placed on the previous title. Released into a market where the jury was still out on the plausibility of the DS, the original provided a magical combination that sold itself and the system. Using the DS's touch, blow and dual screen features it was a must-buy for many people and I even imported a cartridge at extra cost.
However, now the hubbub around the DS has died down, Cooking Mama is looking more than a little jaded. That early enthusiasm of both popular and fan press has evaporated to leave a rather ordinary looking game. What appeared to be a paradigm shift in casual gaming doesn't seem to be quite so revolutionary now. With new titles such as Elite Beat Agents or Phantom Hourglass pushing game play even further, Cooking Mama has grown frumpy and ugly.
But let's not get carried away, the game still delivers a good helping of fan serving fun. Many will again enjoy its Japanese Manga inspired visuals, its unusual control methods and its compelling real life scenarios. Newcomers too will certainly find a good few hours of fun here; slicing, chopping, peeling, kneading, crimping, stirring, simmering and baking their way through each recipe.
They never quite managed to convince me that each of the separate activities contribute to the whole dish. As I moved from chopping to slicing to stirring, it just felt like a random collection of activities.
What's more, the action is not for the faint hearted. I found the difficulty of each recipe becoming increasingly difficult. I was surprised at how much of a challenge was offered by what I had conceived as a popularist game. Only the most dedicated of virtual chefs will be producing plates of properly prepared food.
However, these difficulty spikes raise questions about just who Cooking Mama 2 is aimed at. I put it in front of a younger audience and they struggled to figure out the moves required for each dish. Many of the time limits dictate that only more experienced players will find the game suitably appealing. This is not denying that, if you hit the right combination of age and ability, you should be able to progress comfortably. But there seems to be a lack of appreciation of the range of ages that may be attracted to the game.
This limiting of younger player's enjoyment is made worse by Cooking Mama's thinly veiled mini-game nature. They never quite managed to convince me that each of the separate activities contribute to the whole dish. As I moved from chopping to slicing to stirring, it just felt like a random collection of activities.
The problem is that your performance in each step doesn't have visible consequences for subsequent stages. For example, you chop an onion and see the resulting oddly shaped pieces on your board - determined by the speed of your chopping. Cut to the next scene and you are browning off these onions; however, what you put into the pan are perfectly chopped uniform onion pieces. What happened to my haphazardly chopped vegetable? This disconnection of each stage in the recipe really does reduce the experience. What might have been a great development of tension as earlier mistakes could be visibly seen later on, turns into a set of disconnected mini-games.
Once you realise this, the game's excellent presentation and intuitive use of the DS's user interactions are inconsequential. Even the kooky Japanese-english voice work, endearing though it is, isn't enough to sew the pieces back together. This is a real shame as the game's attention to detail and overall high production values pretty much go to waste.
What results is a game that will only satisfy a small demographic. Anyone wanting a coherent and believable experience will not be entertained here. My young daughter found herself on the other end of the spectrum, battling a game that was simply too hard for her. Somewhere between us there may be the ideal player, but Cooking Mama 2 is way too limited and difficult for a casual game.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: