We sometimes wonder how game developers come up with titles for their games. For every Ronseal-style title, like Wii Sports, Just Dance or Mario Kart, others feel more like a product of the random name generator than anything logical. Part of the latter camp, Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic: Rhythm Cooking, seems like the product of the developers putting a load of girly, cooking and Hello Kitty-related words into a sparkly pink hat and going with whatever got pulled out first - not that this is a bad way to come up with ideas for a game in the slightest. It also helps that, weirdly, it actually at least sort of gets across what the game's about, as Hello Kitty, cooks stuff, in a rhythmical and magical fashion. Presumably while wearing an apron.
What is rhythm cooking though, when it's at home? Well, it's a genre we've come across once before, albeit in less of a sugary sweet guise. In the case of Kitty though, it's essentially a fusion of rhythm action beat matching and the cookery-themed mini-games of Cooking Mama that sees you chopping, stirring and sautéing to music. But unlike our average Saturday morning spent baking cookies to the tune of Marilyn Manson, here every action needs to be in time with the background music - and the more closely you match it, the better you'll score.
Set in the cute and colourful Apron Town, home of Kitty and co, you'll find yourself, as pretty much the only human in a town full of animals, invited over to all and sundry's houses to try your hand at cooking a tasty meal. Initially there's but a couple of houses and inhabitants to choose from, but as your reputation as a chef grows, new faces will move in, bringing with them a brand new recipe too.
While cookery isn't the only thing Apron Town has on offer - run into someone while wandering round town and you can take on various side 'quizzes' too, which mostly involve variations on simple spot the difference puzzles, it's undoubtedly how you'll spent the majority of your time. Heading over to the houses of My Melody, Badtz-Maru, (Kerokero) Keropi and more will give you a choice of two different meals to make, from a curry to an omelette or a fried rice. Once you've made up your mind, you'll find various Touch Screen-based food preparation-related prompts on the bottom screen, prompting you to tap and swipe along with the beat to chop vegetables, fry burgers and wash clams. Coloured icons appear over the top of the food you're preparing, with a gauge that fills up and turns green when the timing is right, while a scrolling timeline on the top warns you of what's coming up and gives you more exact timings.
It all sounds a lot more complex on paper than it is on screen though, and you'll find yourself quickly pulling off all kinds of dishes with ease, as you play along to the frankly rather bizarre soundtrack. Imagine an electronic voice, along the lines of a more cutesy Steven Hawking, singing out a recipe to a variety of pop-ish tunes, and you won't be too far off the mark - whether it's Cinnamoroll's slightly sinister seeming Tempura tune, where he tells you to "First cut the head off. Tear away the skin. Cut the tail end off.", Purupurupurin's Japanese-inspired Fried Rice song, declaring that "Like a dragon on your tongue. Hot shrimp fried rice, here we come." or a health and safety warning that you should "Be careful because the oil is very hot.", the songs are almost as random as the game's title.
As strange as the soundtrack may be, it'll likely start to wear thin pretty quickly, as the game itself really only has seven or so different songs in total - one for each recipe - and for a cooking game, that makes for a rather scant menu. And even then, two recipes, for the Hamburger Steak and Hamburger are so similar they may as well be the same. Technically, you are always unlocking new recipes, but after you've blown through the first round of songs, instead of unlocking a whole myriad of different dishes, you simply unlock a more complex version of one you already have; a kind of 'extended mix' of making some Pasta, or a slightly longer Omelette, for example. Which is a shame really, when you consider it's nearest competitor, Cooking Mama, has literally hundreds of dishes to choose from.
This repetitiveness becomes all the more apparent pretty early on in Apron of Magic, when you only really have a couple of recipes to choose from. You see, in order to attract a new person to your town, you effectively need to play the rhythm cooking game half a dozen times. When you only have two or three tunes, with a new one unlocked every six play throughs, things start to feel very samey. In fact, it can actually seem a bit confusing too, because the game doesn't actually tell you you need to go and play the rhythm game more to progress - it just leaves you to your own devices. Considering it's always all 'Hey! Look! Someone new's moved in! Let's go see them!' when you unlock a new character, with giant red exclamation marks on the screen, the stark contrast of no hints at all can leave you feeling even more at sea than it otherwise would.
But it's not all doom and gloom - if you're looking for unlockables, Apron of Magic has a fair few up it's... er... apron strings? Every time you complete a song or spot the difference, you'll be awarded a number of stamps, and once you earn a certain number of stamps, you unlock one of 146 different collectible character cards, drawn from the arcade game it's all based on. This gives things a constant feeling of progression, and somewhat eases the repetitiveness of things, because you always feel like you're close to unlocking something new.
All in all, Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic: Rhythm Cooking is a pretty nice little game, if a little on the repetitive side. The whole town of Sanrio folks always feels lively, with many familiar faces out and about, ready to play mini-games, even if we do debate how Purupurupurin can be both in the bottom left hand corner of town and behind his front door when we go knocking. The titular rhythm cooking is easy to pick up and play fun too, perfectly accessible for Kitty's younger fans, who likely won't mind the small soundtrack in the slightest.