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Review: 'Cooking Mama' for Wii whips up a feast

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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If you think the "Iron Chef" TV show serves up a wacky culinary experience, wait until you get a taste of "Cooking Mama: Cook Off," a new video game designed for the Nintendo Wii.

Loosely based on the popular Nintendo DS title "Cooking Mama," this console version lets you take command of the kitchen using the Wii's innovative motion-sensing wireless controller. Your goal is to prepare, cook and serve dishes from around the world within a predetermined time limit.

While not without its flaws, Majesco Entertainment's "Cooking Mama: Cook Off" is a deliciously fun and silly exercise for the entire family.

Think of your Wii remote as your all-in-one cooking utensil. It can be a knife for chopping vegetables and cutting meat; a handle to a frying pan or pot; used to shake seasoning on your dish; or used as a roller for sushi.

Because of the motion-sensing technology, you hold and point the controller in different ways, depending on the task, and the effect is seen on-screen in real time.

For example, to peel a carrot, you point the remote at the screen and move your arm up and down, and you'll see the virtual peeler work on the vegetable in real time. Need to mash a potato? Hold the controller upright and quickly shake it up and down.

Cooking paella requires you to steam mussels, finely chop onions, mince yellow and red peppers, cut and stir seafood into the pan, cook rice and so forth. You know you've done a good job in the kitchen when your forearm is a tad sore by the end of a long recipe.

In the main single-player mode, Let's Cook, you select from 10 recipes, such as minestrone soup from Italy or mochi (sticky rice cake) from Japan, and based on your performance -- namely, speed and accuracy -- you will receive a gold, silver or bronze medal. Your best score is also recorded, so you can attempt to beat it later in the game or compare it with the score of Cooking Mama, your anime mentor.

If you perform your duties well, a number of dishes will become unlocked, such as a hotdog (U.S.) or shrimp in chili sauce (from China). An optional Challenge mode is an endurance test that asks you to complete a selected recipe at an accelerated pace with no breaks in between steps. Also available is a Tutorial mode for practice.

Two other modes add to the fun: One is Friends and Food of the World, where you can cook native dishes against computer-controlled opponents to see who can achieve a higher score. Another mode is Friends and Food, a two-player split-screen game to see who is the better chef; the gamer with the most points at the end of the recipe wins. Any recipe unlocked in the Let's Cook mode is playable here, too.

In total, the game features 250 kinds of foods, which make up the 55 real-world dishes from 10 nations: China, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United States.

The main beef with "Cooking Mama: Cook Off," however, is sometimes the motion-sensing controller isn't as accurate or responsive compared with other Wii games. At times, my wrist was clearly turning the saltshaker as the on-screen indicator suggested, but it wasn't moving as it should and the time ran out. In another instance, chopping a carrot requires you to start on one end and finish at the other, but it doesn't really matter where you slice as the game automatically will reposition the blade for you.

Egg-cracking is also way too sensitive, causing shells to end up in the bowl even though you're very gentle.

Also, for $52.99, this collection of minigames doesn't offer as much game play and replayability as it should. A $30 or $40 price tag would be more reasonable.

Despite its shortcomings, 'Cooking Mama: Cook Off" is a unique, wacky and family-friendly game that takes advantage of the Nintendo Wii's clever control scheme -- when it works.

Culinary fans can get cracking with "Cooking Mama: Cook Off," a new video game designed for the Nintendo Wii.
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