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Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic - 3DS Review

Game Info
Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic

3DS | Majesco Entertainment / 
Cooking Mama Limited
| 1-4 Players | Out Now
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7th December 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

The instability of today's economy has prompted many to tackle different fields they might not have otherwise thought of so they can stay current in the job market. It seems like this has even affected fictional video game characters as Majesco's iconic franchise has undergone some radical departures lately. Trying her hand at babysitting, camping and gardening, Mama sure is one well-rounded lady. Although she's been bouncing back and forth between some new jobs lately, she's decided to return to the field she's most passionate about: cooking. Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic not only marks Mama's return to the kitchen, but also her debut on the Nintendo 3DS. With new control opportunities present with this platform, did the developers decide to innovate when they made the jump?

    If you have yet to learn from Mama's masterful cooking skills, you should first know that Cooking Mama is (and always has been) set up as a series of mini-games strung together to guide you through the recipe-creating process. As a junior chef, you'll hopefully learn things along the way as you arrive at a finished, edible product. From the Main Menu, you're given four different play options to choose from. Let's Cook is the standard mode where you will simply select a dish you would like to prepare and Mama will subsequently hold your hand through each step of the recipe. Let's Combine has players using original food items like plain rice and selecting one of the other unlocked recipes so a merging between the two can place. In Let's Help, you kindly assist Mama with chores around the house, while Let's Play Together contains multiplayer challenges for you and your friends.

    So going back to gameplay structure, you'll find that pretty much all of the mini-games are very simple to get into. Traditional cooking utensils including whisks, boilers, grinders, graters and so on are all put to use at different times, depending on whether or not the specific recipe calls for that tool. Many of these require timing-based actions to operate, usually done by simply making quick swiping motions, tapping the screen, or holding down the stylus and using circular movements. During some of these activities, random cans will appear to throw you off and even with simple tasks like spreading jam on toast, the bread will keep bouncing to make things more interesting. However, both of these things were a bit silly for my tastes.

As far as control recognition goes, usually the game doesn't give much trouble picking up your swipes or taps. But there are times when it didn't always register, like when chopping firewood for a stone oven or managing multiple pancake makers. But if you're like me and faced frustration with the controls in Cooking Mama: Cook Off, you'll be happy to hear they work better here (cracking eggs, anyone?). 

    In keeping with the whole simulation aspect of the game, working too vigorously will produce somewhat realistic effects, like having your container spin on the table. Same goes for cutting vegetables. You can't just quickly jiggle the stylus back and forth. There is a proper way of doing it. Other examples of activities include measuring exercises where you need to figure out how much liquid to pour; drawing circles to cut out potato eyes; and, while not nearly as common, there are times when you get to arrange your food and focus on plating presentation.

    Speaking of presentation, Cooking Mama has all along adopted cute-looking, cartoony visuals that don't reflect any kind of seriousness. This is one of the reasons why the prospect of cooking otherwise elaborate dishes is made more inviting. Now with the franchise appearing on the 3DS, naturally the developers wanted to make use of the 3D Slider to add to the gameplay experience. Unfortunately, they didn't really do much that would make you believe that. 3D doesn't do anything to enhance the look of the finished dishes, or even Mama's appearance when she was up against the screen. But there were times when something like a sausage or even a pot on the burner would quickly get shot upwards to the screen above, and 3D would be used there to a decent degree. But aside from those and other related instances, the 3D use is minimal. I did feel, however, that the developers used both screens nicely in the sense that they didn't keep everything boxed in on one screen. Mind you, there was a slight delay whenever an ingredient was falling from the top screen down below, but I suppose that's a minor thing.

If you'll recall at the outset, I posed a question about whether or not the team behind Cooking Mama 4 decided to use this new project as an opportunity to innovate. At this time, I'd like to point out that the latest iteration of the Cooking Mama franchise features control methods previously unexplored. Taking advantage of the L and R Buttons, the Circle Pad, and the motion capabilities of the device, Cooking Mama 4 doesn't just rely on touch controls but uses them in tandem with these aforementioned methods. So, for instance, if you have a tray of food that needs to get heated in the oven, moving Down and Up on the Circle Pad will control the door on the oven while you use the stylus to insert your food. When using the frying pan or crank-operated machines, the Circle Pad is used once again as an optional control method over the stylus. Tilt comes into play when draining or pouring liquids, or even tossing raw meat back and forth with your two hands. Lastly, the L and R Buttons are only used once in a while, like when having to choose between salt and pepper shakers.

    Prior to the start of the activity, if you look on the left of the instruction page and spot a symbol of a magnifying glass, that's your cue that one of these alternative control methods can be used in the mini-game to follow. Unfortunately, unless you've done the recipe once before, you have no idea which of these have been implemented. The game forces you to figure out what the alternate control methods is by trial and error, with a starburst saying "New!" when you do manage to figure it out. Players end up looking foolish trying to shake or tilt the system when it actually doesn't do anything. What's more, these often turn out to be inferior to the stylus speed-wise, which becomes important when aiming for bonus stars (awarded when you clear mini-games with skill). In view of the foregoing, it's hard to say for sure if the developers made a positive step forward with the expanded controls, simply because the execution falters. 

    Following the results screen, Mama will then supply you with one or more presents for your effort. These can include new recipes and chore-based activities, among other things. It produces a sense of motivation within players to continue coming back to the game so they can see just how much the game offers, and happy to say, there's a lot to unlock.

    Moving to Let's Combine, this mode basically just involves combining a prepared item like Stew or Popcorn onto one of eight plain dishes. Combining them simply amounts to a single basic mini-game, which can include rotating plates so a falling item will land on the base dish. If you tap the box marked Challenge when deciding on what dishes to combine, you'll end up starting from scratch. Although the end result will still be the same, you'll jump into each step without a tutorial screen breaking the flow. Compared with the standard mode of play, this feels a bit superficial in the way it tries to extend content, mostly because all the recipes you've unlocked are there for the picking. So you're given free rein to create combinations that are totally unheard of, like having grilled shrimp on pancakes. I don't really see the purpose or fun in doing that.

    Unlike Let's Combine, which is a recurring feature, Let's Help is a brand new mode for Cooking Mama 4. As stated earlier, the objective with the more than 15 unlockable activities is to assist Mama with the chores she presumably did all by herself when you weren't playing the game. Players will help around the house in various ways, including using the vacuum, wiping the floor, and taking out the trash. I understand that the developers wanted to include these activities for the sole purpose of making the cooking experience feel less narrow, but all the mini-games I tried were mediocre and lacked appeal for repeat sessions. So when Mama's speech bubble read "Keep going!" on the top screen, I usually just said "No thanks".

    Through 3DS Download Play, Cooking Mama 4 can also be enjoyed in a group with up to three other players, regardless if they have their own copy of the game or not. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to test this out. However, if it contains the same mechanics as Let's Cook mode in a competition format as well as a few of the side mini-games seen in Let's Help mode, then you should know what to expect from the game's multiplayer mode.

    Aside from gameplay, Cooking Mama 4 also includes a customization mode called Mama's Gallery where you can change her clothing, provide her with accessories to wear, change the colour on the equipment you use, and more. A large portion of these are locked at the start of the game, but by earning Bonus Stars, you'll start to free up some of these options for your personal use. Under the Options menu, the game also gives you the ability to share a demo of Cooking Mama 4 with a fellow 3DS user through Download Play. I couldn't help but wonder, though, if this would have had a more positive effect had Nintendo of America given developers the ability to put downloadable trial versions on the eShop. Since this has already been made available in Japan, here's hoping the demo appears on the eShop if and when this function gets added over in our part of the world.

    Personality is another big reason why Cooking Mama has lasted this long. This is something that has stemmed mostly from Mama's humorous attempts at the English language, albeit I didn't find these to be as funny as the clips I've heard in the past. Exhibiting more personality are Mama's facial gestures that appear when the player makes stumbles along the way. I almost came to the point of laughing when smoke from a pot of burnt popcorn filled the 3D Screen, leaving poor Mama with a disgruntled look and black residue on her face. At another point, I splattered ketchup everywhere and had to wipe the screen with a small cloth. It's little things like that that make you feel a little more at home with Mama and her tutoring methods.

While some recipes can be completed in less than five steps, some will take ten or even more, so time spent on each dish will vary. But as a whole, the game definitely has pick-up-and-play appeal, making it very easy for someone to just turn on the game, do a quick recipe and leave. Naturally, some activities are better than others. I mean, who knew tearing lettuce could be so riveting! Nevertheless, younger audiences will likely find the game to be mostly enjoyable. Part of the reason for that, too, is the forgiving nature of the evaluation process. Just as an example, I completely dropped a stack of pancakes on the ground and I was still able to get a Perfect score! I don't think I even need to go into further detail about what the difficulty level is like, but just know that if you're an older gamer, you might start to think the game is a little too casual-focused.

    If you've been wondering what's so great about Cooking Mama, don't expect Kitchen Magic to be the game that makes it abundantly clear why it's lasted this long. It's a decent cooking simulation title that tries to take advantage of the control possibilities present on this new platform whilst also making some improvements to the basic formula. The kids will get much more out of this than any other target, especially young girls. Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic isn't worth rushing out to the store to buy, but if you ever see it at a reduced price or have some extra money for a 3DS game, there are some elements here that may just make it worth your time.

20/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Simple mini-games with pick-up-and-play appeal, new controls are promising but the execution is somewhat lacking, both screens utilized
Presentation 6/10 - Visual approach consistent with past titles, 3D isn't used a whole lot, still has personality especially through Mama's reactions
Enjoyment 3/5 - Decent fun, some aspects take away from the fun factor, chores are mediocre, very forgiving, younger audiences will enjoy it the most
Extra Content 4/5 - Lots of recipes to unlock, multiplayer capabilities, earn medals and Bonus Stars, additional accessories and outfits, transmittable demo

Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic
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