We can’t help thinking that Cooking Mama was best suited to the pocket-sized DS, not the full-bodied Wii. The idea is that the Wii’s functionality is perfect for the game, letting you use the remote to closely simulate chopping real peppers, cracking real eggs and stirring real soup. You know, like every real night of your life, right? Wrong.
At least on DS you had the touch screen to create some sensation of resistance while you carried out your cooking tasks; on the Wii there’s not even the occasional remote rumble to imply you’re doing anything other than waving your hand around the room at random. On top of that, the remote doesn’t even seem to do what you tell it to half the time.
For example, one of the minigames - and no matter how it’s dressed up, this is essentially just a collection of minigames - has you grating cheese. You hold the remote downwards and mimic a naturalistic grating gesture. Occasionally the grater gets clogged up, so you have to shake the bits free before carrying on.
This’d be fine, a nice touch even, if the remote actually worked when you did it. The gesture you’re told to make is to shake the remote up and down. Doing this rarely frees any cheese - maybe one time in every five. Trying to shake it harder seems to stall the remote sensor, while doing it gently means the movements are too soft for the Wii to pick up. Plus, you suddenly realize you’re playing a game where you grate cheese.
Other particularly poor games include peeling carrots - which is just weird without anything to physically scrape against - and using the rolling pin, which sometimes feels as though the sensor’s gone for some coffee while you sweat gravy trying to get the dough flattened evenly. And the thing that’ll really make all of these problems especially frustrating is that, rather than feeling like it has any element of fun learning, each game is a frantic race against a fairly short clock.
The race element is both a blessing and a curse. A competitive aspect has been introduced to the game which, initially at least, gives your random cookery experiments a bit of focus. There are three ways to play single player: practice making specific dishes, try and beat your own personal high scores on specific dishes, and choosing to compete against AI players in a world tournament Cook Off.
You start with three competitors to beat, in no particular order (there don’t seem to be heats, for example, but rather you have to beat every single contestant in order to win), and each of them has a specialty dish that you have to make faster and more precisely than them in order to win. Beating competitors unlocks new recipes to make in the practice mode and, well, that’s it.
It’s good to see what you’re aiming for with each dish, and it spices up the gameplay a little to make it competitive. Strange, then, that multiplayer against a second real human player seems entirely redundant and broken. Somewhere into the third minigame of an eight-game dish, the two of you will pause, look at each other and say, “What the hell are we doing?”
Fundamentally this is a game that seems to lack motivation. Get the best times in some dishes and you unlock more of them to practice, which then unlocks more competitors for you to beat, in an endlessly repetitive swirl of cucumber-chopping and egg-cracking mimicry.
It’s not as though it’s all bad - the meat grinder is great, with you holding the remote like a handle and winding as fast as you can to get the meat through, and the chopping does feel kinda satisfying when you can sweep an entire pepper off the board faster than Britney Spears can embarrass herself. But with your only reward being more recipes to practice with a fairly unresponsive remote, there’s just not enough to motivate you to play.
Still, Mama herself is an interesting character. Kept in from the DS version, Mama’s eyes burn bright hellfire when you screw up a recipe, which is still entertainingly inappropriate given the smiley tone of the rest of the game. Other nice Mama responses have her covered in batter if you whisk too zealously, or painted up like a Japanese Kabuki actor. Doesn’t make up for the game’s inherent flaws, though.
One really ludicrous oversight is that the pointer hand isn’t on screen all the time. Obviously some tasks don’t utilize it at all - the knife or spoon or whatever moving instead of a pointer - but some recipes require you to push specific buttons with a hand. As it only appears on screen after the clock has started, you waste the first few seconds of each task screwing around trying to locate it on screen. Not useful in a game that relies on perfect timing.
Cooking Mama is visually very cute, with a pleasant effect coming from the combination of clean and bright cartoony settings with uncannily realistic-looking meats and vegetables. Fundamentally, though, it still feels like a DS game, and is largely unchanged except for the addition of the underwhelming competition and some frequently unresponsive and disappointing Wii remote controls. We’re left with no other option than to risk the burning hell of Mama’s eyes, and tell her to cook off.