|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Office Create||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Majesco||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 13, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Cooking in real life may not always be easy or particularly enjoyable, but last year Cooking Mama for DS showed gamers the pleasures and pitfalls of virtual food preparation via crafty stylus-driven mini-games. You don't have to be a marvel in the kitchen to get a kick out of concocting culinary creations with Mama. Despite some quirks, the original game left many players craving seconds.
In Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends you'll get another heaping plateful of delicious delights, plenty of new recipes, kitchen customization, an excellent new play mode, and more. It improves slightly on the original design and offers enough new content to entice players to roll up their sleeves, pick up the stylus, and jump back into the kitchen.
Dinner with Friends is less of a sequel and more of an upgraded continuation of the same step-by-step food prep gameplay of Cooking Mama. For anyone who's never stepped foot behind Mama's counter, the concept of the game revolves around learning how to prepare numerous dishes while striving to do the best job possible in a lighthearted atmosphere (except when Mama's eyes blaze red with unholy fire). You'll create an extremely wide range of meals - everything from pizza and chilidogs to squid fried rice and even kimchi - by successfully completing a series of mini-games at each stage of the food preparation process. You'll be chopping veggies, using food processors, pounding meat, mixing ingredients, filleting fish, cracking eggs and so forth. Only a handful of recipes are available from the start, but half of the thrill of cooking is seeing what new meals you'll unlock when you perfect a dish. There are a total of 150 cooking mini-games and 80 new recipes to create.
In the main play mode, Mama will walk you through each step of a recipe with basic instructions. She'll comment on your success at the end of each mini-game, and you'll receive an overall grade for your dish once it's completed. When digging into the first few recipes, it was difficult to stave off an initial feeling of disappointment at having to play some of the same exact cooking mini-games from the original game. If you take a moment to consider how actual cooking frequently requires performance of many of the same menial tasks from recipe-to-recipe, however, it does make sense. Still, the developers could have easily chosen to spice up or slightly change the visuals for carry-over tasks. After whipping up a few more recipes, these concerns were allayed once it became clear just how many new mini-games and neat tweaks were incorporated into Dinner with Friends. Those who have enjoyed the first Cooking Mama will still cringe when their least favorite tasks from the original rear their ugly head once more, but there's more than enough variety to make up for it.
Easily the best addition, the new Let's Cook mode has players cooking meals for Mama or one of her many friends who will taste your creations and render their judgment. Let's Cook moves at a faster pace and leaves less room for error, offering advanced virtual chefs a more difficult challenge in the kitchen. Each cooking mini-game in a particular recipe is played one after another without pause or instruction. Failing any of the steps along the way will instantly render your meal inedible, and your dinner guest will be sure to let you know their thoughts on the matter. This mode flows smoothly and is a nice change over the more deliberate momentum of the traditional gameplay. A third mode, Cooking Contest, can either be played solo or with up to three other friends via single-card download play. Instead of cooking a complete dish, Cooking Contest has players competing in individual tasks to flex their kitchen skills. Cracking eggs, forming burgers, cutting corn off the cob, pouring liquid, grinding meat, slicing pasta, grilling with charcoal, and making crepes are among the many menial tasks you can compete in. Essentially, you'll choose a single task and try to complete that action as many times as possible before the time runs out. It's good practice if you need to brush up on your skills, yet it fails at providing a solid or fun multi-player experience.