Game Review: Cooking Mama 4 – Kitchen Magic

Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic

Cooking…IN 3D! Or, as it’s Known in the Real World: Cooking.

Majesco Games / Cooking Mama LTD.
Nintendo 3DS
Release Date
November 16th, 2011
Review by Ari Rockefeller
                Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic is the latest entry in the surprisingly popular and ever-so-quirky main Cooking Mama series, and the series’ first entry into Nintendo’s new handheld gaming system. Now all of Mama’s cartoony cooking goodness can come to you in eye-popping 3D! Make of that what you will.
                There’s not really all that much resembling a plot in the Cooking Mama series. You are once again placed in the kitchen of the titular Mama, the kitchen master whose behavior and actions can be interpreted as either a) the logical inverse of Gordon Ramsay; or b) Ron Ben-Israel in cartoon form. She’s got a huge book of recipes she wants you to make.

                Players familiar with the franchise know how the gameplay works—each step in the recipe is done via minigame, and will have you chopping, mixing, frying, grilling, skewering, slicing, adding, and boiling all sorts of different ingredients. At the end of each game, you get a medal, which contributes to your overall score for the recipe. Each step awards a medal (gold, silver or bronze) depending on your performance, but that’s not the only reward you get for completing it perfectly. Occasionally, you’ll be given special bonuses for doing exceptionally well, noted by little stars on the results screen after getting the appropriate medal. For every three stars you earn, you get presents from Mama, which you can use to customize different aspects of the game—the utensils you use, the décor in the kitchen, hell, even Mama herself can be dressed in a wide variety of color swaps, accessories, or outfits.
                The gameplay is easy enough to pick up and learn, as each minigame tells you where, when and how to move the stylus and/or how to touch the touch screen. It’s easy enough to slice and chop your way through a lot of the games, but there are a few areas that are peculiarly vexing, especially when it comes to the skewering minigames. Because of course the only way to really get a hot dog or a strawberry on a little bamboo skewer is to let it roll on by you, thrust the skewer when it gets close and hope for the best, or catch the strawberry on the skewer as it falls from the ceiling. Using the industrial slicer is another exercise in trial-and-error gameplay, as the depth and forcefulness of each flick of the stylus doesn’t translate to what you’re attempting. And if you take special care of your 3DS and are wary of putting marks on the touch screen, it makes the game more of a chore than anything else. Thankfully, if you ever screw up getting a perfect on any part, you can restart, and it’ll take you back to the beginning of the step, and not the beginning of the recipe. Each game has a different time limit to it, and the game is very forgiving with the time. Even the shorter games will leave plenty of time left on the clock, despite all you needing to do is perform one or two actions.
                On the graphics front, the game does make use of the 3DS’s 3D effects, and the bright and cheerful colors aren’t a strain on the eyes at all. It’s entirely possible to might focus too much on the bottom screen, leading to your eyes not focusing on the top screen, which might show double images depending on where the 3D slider is set, which might distract you from a critical point in the game. Turning off the 3D altogether leaves the top screen looking a little flat, but the benefits of the 3D outweigh this easily. Occasionally, when botching a step in a minigame, whatever you were trying to prepare will fly up into the top screen and wallop Mama on the head, stunning her for a few moments. Funny, but the fully rendered food product juxtaposed on the flat, cartoony Mama can be a little jarring.
                The music might not be anything to write home about, but it’s pleasant and fits the atmosphere well enough. However, holding on the same menu for too long will lead to the music fading out and restarting, the same way setting an mp3 to “repeat” would. A lot of the sound effects are reused from earlier Cooking Mama games, but hey—if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Mama’s engrish is just as charming to listen to as always.
                There’s more to the game than just cooking. Other game modes include “Let’s Help!” wherein you help Mama around the house, doing various household chores which have varying relevance to actual cooking. Sure there’s washing pots and pans and the like, but how do I learn anything about cooking by using the vacuum or taking out the trash? Is it a way to build up discipline or something on those lines? In any event, they can be unlocked by completing recipes and earning enough bonuses, but other than bragging about your high score, they add little else to the game.
                Similar to the original Cooking Mama game, the “Let’s Combine!” mode allows you to take recipes you’ve previously completed and combine them with other basic staples to form a new meal. There are two versions of this: you either play a single game with the combined dishes, or run through all the steps of both dishes back to back. Either way, all it’ll get you is a medal for that particular dish; you don’t unlock anything special by completing them. There is multiplayer support, allowing up to three additional players to play on a single game card, and it’s essentially 4-player co-op.
                Overall, if you’re a fan of the series—and it’s difficult not to be—you’ll enjoy this game. It’s fun, easy to pick up, and if for nothing else, it’s a good way to kill some time. It’ll teach you how to cook the same way Rock Band will teach you how to play a musical instrument—not a very good teaching tool, but if you feel so inclined to learn on your own, it’s a step in the right direction.

 (Reviews are on a zero to five scale)

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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