|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Atari||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Keen Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Like a tasty dish made with diverse yet compatible ingredients, the combination of cooking and video games can often be a winning recipe. With the advent of the Food Network, cooking shows and related food programs have become increasingly popular, so its no surprise to see more video game spinoffs sprouting up.
Cooking Mama all but established the norm of incorporating some form of mini-game heavy cooking mechanics into the genre. As new games continue to come out, the more esoteric forms of gameplay creeping into the mix are yielding mixed results.
Also known as The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver is a familiar young face to many non-gamers, and his pretty boy visage, pleasant English accent, and hunger-inducing recipes are now baked into a fresh offering on the DS. Oliver is no doubt a masterful chef, his delicious-looking cuisine is surely first-rate, and its undeniable hes successful at what he does. However, his debut journey into the virtual realm of video games leaves us wondering whether itd be better for him to stay in the kitchen. Whats Cooking? Jamie Oliver has plenty of interesting components and a solid design, but it suffers from a lack of direction. By trying to be too many different things at once, Whats Cooking? ultimately fails to substantially succeed at any of them.
One of the games main focuses is to serve as a virtual cookbook to assist players in the actual cooking process. This is a neat idea with a few truly helpful features. An extensive recipe list features a hundred of Olivers tasty dishes. In the interactive cookbook mode, you can easily pick through a list of different dishes ranging from fancy meals to basic treats. The list provides a picture of the dish along with other important information like cooking time and prep times, ingredients, and seasonal or setting recommendations. A variety of filters let you handily search through the list or sort it by ingredients, cooking time, and other elements. Theres even a vegetarian filter.
Once youve selected a recipe, you can check out the ingredients needed for the dish and create a virtual shopping list right on the DS. In addition to the ingredients for a particular meal, you can add your own variations to the list through a letter recognition box or hunting and pecking the touch-screen keyboard with the stylus. Separately, you can even choose to come up with your own recipes and share them wirelessly. There are step-by-step instructions for you to follow, while preparing the meal. An on-board timer lets you track the minutes at each step if desired. A voice recognition feature can be turned on, allowing you to say Next or Previous to flip the digital pages of instructions without getting your DS all nasty with whatevers stuck to your hands. The voice response element actually works surprisingly well.
When it comes to the actual deed of cooking, using the DS as a guide becomes a bit precarious. If youre anything like me in the kitchen, theres a very strong likelihood of putting your handheld in imminent danger just by it being perched within close proximity to food prep. It would be a little too easy to accidentally bump the DS and send it plummeting to an early demise on the kitchen floor or to a watery grave in the sink. Plus, spilling gobs of fluid ingredients or dribbling food bits on it would be a little too much to bear. Then theres the matter of practicality. Its far cheaper and just as simple to pick up a cook book, scribble down your shopping list on a piece of paper, and go to it the old-fashioned way.