"All the fun of cooking, without the washing up!" was Cooking Mama's famous tagline on many a TV advert back in the day - although it neglected to mention that the best part of cooking is eating what you've made afterwards... That said, pixels probably aren't the tastiest food imaginable, and neither, for that matter, is the 3DS, so maybe it's for the best.
Cooking Mama 4 is no drastic departure from past iterations - you choose a recipe, then tackle a series of Touch Screen-based mini-games centred around aspects of the preparation of said recipe. Whether it's whisking eggs, frying onions or washing persimmons; mincing meat, chopping vegetables or kneading bread, there's plenty of variety across the two hundred plus mini-games included - although you will find a fair few use decidedly similar concepts, just with different ingredients.
Upon starting the game, you're presented with six different options on the menu:
- 'Let's Cook!' is where the meat of the game is found, letting you select a recipe to play through
- 'Let's Combine!' lets you serve any two recipes alongside each other
- 'Let's Help!' gives you a few non-cooking related mini-games to try - vacuuming, recycling, putting away toys; that sort of thing.
- 'Let's Play Together!' is home to the multiplayer options, whether your friends own a copy of the game or not
- 'Mama's Gallery' has the various outfits, accessories, cookware colour schemes and kitchen décor you've unlocked
- 'Options' is where you'll find the demo-sending option, along with a few other things
The main part of the game takes part in the 'Let's Cook!' section, where you get to choose one of your unlocked recipes and work your way through it. Each recipe has multiple steps to it, which means only one thing - multiple mini-games, for each aspect of the preperation. There's a real range of recipes too, from Japanese gems like Natto and Tamagoyaki to Western favourites like Popcorn and Pancakes, along with ones you wouldn't think would take much like Toast and Rice. And by-gum Rice is more complicated than I'd ever imagined - first, you apparently need to 'Polish the rice!', which involves mashing it with a chopstick down the neck of a glass bottle, but if you go too fast, the chopstick flies out the top and you'll need to catch it before you can carry on. Then you need to 'Measure and pour it!', by using a machine that dispenses set amounts of rice, followed by you needing to 'Wash the rice!' by pouring water in from the tap, swishing it around a bit with your hands, then pouring the excess water out again. Then you need to measure out the correct amount of water from the selection of water bottles to fill the pot up to the indicated line. Finally comes the cooking, where you'll need to chop loads of firewood to put in the stove and get the flame hot enough to start the rice cooking... Five stages for a bowl of rice?? All I usually do is bung half a cup of rice, a whole cup of water and a pinch of salt into a pan, cover and walk off for ten minutes...
For every recipe you successfully complete, you get a present or two, which is nearly always a new recipe, but there's also accessories, outfits and various kitchen-related colour-schemes to unlock too, which are all stored under the 'Mama's Gallery' section of the menu. Here you can change Mama's outfit, add hair bands, glasses and the like, as well as changing how your kitchen looks, from different designs for pots and pans, to new wallpapers and counters.
With 'Let's Combine!', you get to choose from a series of 'original' dishes - Pizza, Curry, Pancakes, Spaghetti, Toast, Soba, Udon and Rice - and then one of the recipes you've unlocked in the main game, and serve them alongside/on top of each other. First, we decided to go for a relatively safe option of Rice and Umeboshi, in which we were spooning rice into a series of bowls, before the Umeboshi dumplings dropped in on top when we were done. Then, just to be daft, we tried Pizza and Ice Lollies - which, much to our surprise and merriment, it let us do. Having a circle of plates on the table with a pizza on one of them, it was up to us to rotate the plates so that the pizza was directly below the incoming ice lollies as they fell from the sky, ready to be unceremoniously plonked on top of the pizzas.
They say a woman's work is never done, and the 'Let's Help!' hints at all the other stuff busy Mama's need doing besides cooking, and gives you the chance to lend a hand - by, you guessed it, playing a few mini-games. There's housework related activities like 'Use the vacuum!' where you're navigating a vacuum across a carpet littered with bits and pieces; and 'Use the duster!', where you need to repeatedly touch objects to dust them, but not to vigorously, lest they fly off the screen. There's one's where you need to put toys away, in a game of keepy-uppy by tapping teddies etc to bounce them across the screen to the toybox, and one where you need to unwrap a box by moving the stylus over them. With some seventeen activities to unlock, there's some stuff to do that's not related to cooking, although they do still seem rather similar in style.
Having starred in a whopping three DS main games, two Wii titles and four spin-offs tackling other pursuits, Mama's definitely had her work cut out for her - yet she's come back for another go, in Cooking Mama 4, the first 3DS game of the series. It's no real change from her previous outings - you're still mixing, chopping and frying foodstuffs in a variety of Touch Screen-based mini-games, but it still has it's place in your growing 3DS collection for short, simple, uncomplicated fun.