The original Cooking Mama game was well-liked - yet another example of games making fun out of an activity we abhor in real life. But players eventually stopped caring what virtual dish might result from a furious session of whisking, chopping and frying. Everything blurred together. Now an enhanced sequel is here, but not much has changed. Cooking Mama 2 features new modes and recipes, but mostly it's the same quirky, hunger-inducing, initially-captivating-but-ultimately-repetitive experience as its predecessor.
The graphics and sound are still vibrant and uniquely charming (especially the jaunty background music and the barely intelligible voice actress), only now they're more detailed and can improve your performance. Ingredients now evolve more dynamically as you cook, giving you more natural cues as to when to execute the next step.
For example, you'll drop a pastry into a boiling kettle of liquid and retrieve it only after it floats back to the surface and changes color, or you'll place meat on a grill and flip it once it browns and starts smoking and hissing. For comparison, the first Cooking Mama would have just used a scrolling timeline to tell you when to flip it, and the browning would have been just a graphical touch, not necessarily a signal.
You'll appreciate that assistance if you cook for Mama's friends. While Mama offers tips throughout a meal's preparation and will even correct insignificant mistakes, her pals won't tolerate any blunders. They also demand the most complex dishes, so occasional goof-ups are unavoidable. There's some experimentation involved the first time you attempt pretty much any recipe. Before you even understand an objective, you might blow it.
Even when you aren't working overtime to feed your digital friends, you'll want to excel and earn prizes. You can snag new attire for Mama and junk for her kitchen, plus decorative seals for your food diaries (where you can store records of up to eight of your favorite performances). Medals and new recipes are also awarded based on your culinary creations, so there's a lot on the line with every stylus swipe or scribble. Naturally, that means that the rare instances where your touch screen fails to respond properly could have you howling in frustration.
New to this sequel is a basic multiplayer mode. It's just a race to see who can prepare a certain dish faster, but it's a good addition that gives the game a little longer legs - provided you have a buddy you can challenge to a cooking showdown.
In small doses, Cooking Mama 2 is perfect for players of all ages. The improvements over the first game in the series don't lead to a significantly enhanced experience, but they ensure that it's a solid package. If you're on a tight budget and don't already own the more affordable original title, though, you could buy it instead and not really miss much.