Cooking Mama has always been one of our guilty pleasures - while we'd never admit to liking it in public, we've sure as heck gold medal-ed every recipe in the ones we've played. A surprising success when it debuted on Nintendo's DS, its simple Touch Screen-dominated mini-games were a rousing success with the big N's new 'blue ocean' audience of females, families and kids, many of whom had never really picked up a traditional game before. Now, over a decade since Mama first appeared, she's back with a new and decidedly sweet-centric mini-game collection, Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop.
As you can probably guess from the title, Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is a sweet-toothed take on the winning quick-fire cookery formula. There's cream puffs, macaroons and teddy-shaped pancakes galore to be made, as well as a gamut of fruit tarts, sponge cakes and chocolate truffles too, as you bake your way through some sixty or so recipes under the ever-watchful Mama's eyes. Entirely stylus-controlled, simple and addictive, you'll find yourself swirling cake batters, tapping to chop chocolate and peeling bananas to name but a few, with each recipe made up of several different short mini-game sequences, each dealing with a different aspect of making the final product.
Of course, it's all very familiar - aside from the end products, there's very little in terms of mini-games here that haven't already been done in umpteen Cooking Mama games before; and indeed, there's very few that aren't repeated in different guises within Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop itself. The cynical among us could say that the whole 'Sweet Shop' restriction is purely so they can get away with reusing mini-games more than usual, seeing as chopping chocolate, sifting flour and stirring mixtures do seem to crop up more frequently than in past games. But then perhaps that's only to be expected, when you consider that cooking itself is really just repeating a few key techniques over and over, with varying ingredients - a bubbling bolognese is not too dissimilar to a big vat of chilli or a myriad of different curries.
But for those who don't want a game with a sprawling story or complex battle system, Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is good, simple fun. Tapping the Touch Screen to chop chocolate into itty bitty pieces, swirling various mixtures with your stylus and remembering oven temperatures and timings is the order of the day here, with none of it being especially taxing - and even if you do make a complete balls up of your Victoria sponge, you needn't worry because "Mama will fix it". Sometimes, she even leaves you more to your own devices, letting you decorate your cupcakes, puddings and fruit tarts to your heart's content, with no time limits and no penalties - you even get free reign with an icing bag at times too, drawing your own faces on gingerbread men and bear-shaped pancakes.
Mama's titular Sweet Shop also adds some light - and we do mean very light - shop management to the proceedings. Once you've completed a recipe, you'll be able to place the finished product into your shop, where passers by will stop to peruse your wares, eventually settling on one of your sweet treats to take away with them, earning you tickets in the process. Acting as the game's currency, these tickets can then be exchanged for new outfits for Mama, new pots and pans for your kitchen and new décor for your shop. No matter how many people stop by to get a piece of your Buche de Noel, there's no need to worry about stock levels here either - once you've made a recipe once, you seemingly have an infinite supply of the cake in question.
Make enough cakes, pastries and pies and you'll attract the attention of the mysterious Sweets Madam - a lady with an exceptional sweet tooth, who, should she take a shining to your baked goods, will help you and your humble bakery business expand across the world. When she stops by your store, she'll have a particular sweet treat in mind that she wants to try, which you may or may not currently have in stock. If you manage to satisfy her cravings, you'll unlock a bunch of bonus mini-game challenges separate from the usual cookery ones - such as speedily sorting fairy cakes into the corresponding boxes or flicking cookies into tins as quickly as you can.
As is often the case with Cooking Mama and her mini-games, though, sometimes the instructions can be a little on the vague/hard to follow side, while in some cases they're barely explained at all. Fortunately, most of the mini-games are fairly self-explanatory when you actually get into it, although going in blind can make you mess up and lose out on a gold medal because you initially weren't sure what you had to do, forcing you to play the entire recipe over for the top score. Also, because we need to vent about it somewhere, why does Mama go to all the trouble of baking a cake in a square tin then cutting it into a circle rather than baking it in a round tin to start with? We've bought plenty of cake tins over the years and circular is way more standard than square, so she's going to have gone out of her way to score a square one so WHY MAMA WHY?!
In all then, Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is much the same Cooking Mama game we've played umpteen times before, and does little to break the mould of the long-running culinary mini-game series - although that's not necessarily a bad thing. Those who've lapped up every Mama game so far will likely find more of the same here to satisfy their sweet tooth, while those that find the experience a little too shallow and repetitive (i.e. those who don't have a soul) will likely find Sweet Shop will do little to change their mind.