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Review: Cooking Mama (iOS)

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by

I’m not particularly shy about my love for Cooking Mama. The series may be catered towards girls, no pun intended, but the minigames found in the first two Nintendo DS games just resonated with me.

A couple years ago, I lost my Nintendo DS Phat to gravity. My muscle memory betrayed me when I went to put it into the inside pocket of my new coat that, turns out, didn’t have an inside pocket like the one I had worn for years. I’ve mourned ever since.

I don’t know why, but I got the itch to play Cooking Mama again recently. The Facebook version, and its social and resource elements, didn’t cut it. So, I picked it up in the App Store and decided to give her a go.

Cooking Mama is, at its core, a cooking minigame collection. Each minigame represents a step in the cooking process. Many of the games are similar but with slightly different instructions, such as how you would slice a potato compared to an onion. You’ll trace dotted lines, tap the screen, and occasionally shake or tilt your device while you play. The recipes are varied enough that no two feel identical. You are given a grade at the end of all the steps based upon how well you did in the minigames. It’s simple, but it’s fun.

However, there are a lot of problems that come with the iOS version. At seven dollars, it’s already overpriced compared to the rest of the App Store. Then, once you buy it, you find that it’s damn near bare bones. The graphics and games are mostly the same, but the presentation and number of recipes are lacking.

The fact that the game asks for in-app purchases AFTER your initial purchase is inexcusable. I don’t really like being nickel and dimed out of my money, and Cooking Mama is a game that nickles and dimes the hell out of you. After parting with seven dollars (which could buy you every Angry Birds and Cut the Rope game with two dollars to spare for when Angry Birds Space is released on March 22nd), you have to make the choice of going all-in or cutting your losses.

Moreover, the system in place to purchase additional recipes is clunky and invasive. Closed cookbooks are inserted in the recipe menu, which is inexplicably a mere four recipes per page, as a constant reminder that you are missing out. Then, the game needs to connect to servers before it can so much as tell you a recipe’s name, and accidental clicks cannot be canceled out easily. These purchasable recipes would be much better off in an in-app purchase store. Cooking Mama needs a serious user interface update.

Then, you have the lack of voice acting. I surely am not the only person who loves Mama’s heavily-accented English and was very disappointed to find no sound clips here. It’s what you’d expect from mobile phone games made in 2006, not an iOS app that was made in 2009. Square Enix, owners of the Taito subsidiary, added voice acting to Chaos Rings well after its release. Why can’t they do the same for Cooking Mama?

There are other issues as well. While most minigames are horizontally-oriented, some minigames ask for vertical orientation. It seems unnecessary and more like an experiment in iOS programming. The accelerometer-based “pouring” minigames feel off and the change of view can be a bit disorienting. This game is three years old, a relic by App Store standards, and it certainly feels dated.

"The iPhone has an accelerometer? Let's use it in a way that no one will care about!"

The biggest problem for me, though, is that Cooking Mama is inferior to Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends. Keep in mind, Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends preceded Cooking Mama on iOS by two years on hardware technically inferior to the original iPhone. While I don’t miss the nonsensical microphone blowing minigames, I do miss the “BONUS” incentive to finish a game quickly. There are no collectibles or customization to be found here. Even the higher difficulty cooking mode, where one misstep equals failure, is missing. It all feels slightly underdone and this time the pun is intended.

Cooking Mama is fun, certainly, but it’s just too overpriced and under-featured to recommend to anyone. There are actually better cooking minigame collections in the App Store that doesn’t come with the “Japanese Premium” price tag. Cooking Academy offers a similar, perhaps superior, experience for less money and is where you should look first if you enjoy cooking minigames.

(Cooking Mama sells for $6.99 in the App Store with two play modes and TWELVE languages. Additional recipes may be purchased via IAP for ninety-nine cents. Cooking Mama lacks retina display support and GameCenter integration. Cooking Mama was originally released on February 25th, 2009.)

About the Author

Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming. Keep up with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Fade2Slack so he can justify having a Twitter account.

Fade to Slack has written 352 posts on Delta Attack
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  • Mark A. Brooks

    That $0.99 price point really fucks things up for every mobile game that dares exceed it; especially as far as this one does. I can’t, for the life of me, justify picking up War of the Lions because it’s too ‘spensive, despite having paid twice the iOS asking price on the PSP port a few years ago.

    I have been very close to getting Secret of Mana a number of times, though. I just, I dunno. I have a feeling the emulated control pad will ruin it for me.

    • Fade to Slack

      The economy of the App Store is messed up in a way, but the developers are likely making more off of games because of their insane numbers. Some of those games will be purchased AND NEVER PLAYED. I’m very, very guilty of this thanks to Gameloft’s 99 cent sales.

      As for Cooking Mama, I don’t think I’d give the very best Cooking Mama game (Dinner with Friends) higher than an 80 or 85. However, what we have is the worst version of the game with fewer recipes, fewer features, no voice acting, and in-app purchases. I’d rather Taito make the app sixteen bucks and have everything unlocked from the start. If I didn’t already know about the IAP when I purchased it, I would have been livid.

      Secret of Mana isn’t bad, really. Boss fights were the only time I felt they were clumsy. Chrono Trigger is HORRIBLE, though, and absolutely ruined by the lack of a button.