|System: Wii, PC, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ludia||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 9, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Cooking shows have changed drastically from the calm and quiet days of Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet. Similar shows still exist, and there are those who remain interested in learning new recipes to try out in their own kitchens. However, the reality television craze has spawned a new breed of kitchen programming. No longer content with simply watching people prepare new and delicious meals, viewers now crave fierce competitions full of swearing, food being thrown, and dishes being smashed.
Fox's popular Hell's Kitchen is easily one of the most extreme cooking shows around, thanks to the bombastic shenanigans of Gordon Ramsay - a fiery chef known for his liberal use of the F word and being a total prick to participants on the show. Ramsay has no qualms about berating contestants frequently, throwing their food away for the slightest imperfections, and even shutting the entire kitchen down. Needless to say, it makes for some exciting television. Ludia's video game adaption of the program is packed full of intense kitchen action that's an excellent mixture of stress and fun.
Much like other cooking games on the market, Hell's Kitchen puts you behind the chopping block of a budding restaurant with the goal of improving the menu with killer recipes, attracting new clientele, and slowly building your digs into an extravagant five star eatery. Providing a well-rounded entrepreneurial experience, it forces budding chefs to divide their time evenly between different areas of the restaurant. Half of the time you'll be directing a single waiter to deal with customers as they come in. At the same time, you'll also prepare ingredients and cook orders in the kitchen. Switching back and forth between the two rooms and the duties of each is a constant juggling act. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention there's a perfectionist, lunatic asshole breathing down your neck the entire time.
While Hell's Kitchen follows the Cake Mania and Diner Dash school of casual cooking game design, it's definitely not for the kiddies. The presentation, difficulty level, and quasi-mature elements lend well to the slightly older crowd. Part of what makes the game so entertaining (and tense) is the fact all aspects of gameplay, from taking orders and waiting on tables to making and serving the meals, are handled while under the ever-watchful eye of Ramsay himself. He dishes out praise sparingly and is quick to point out mistakes. Prepare to get browbeaten and verbally abused when you start to screw up under the pressure. That's when the colorful language flows freely. Of course, the expletives are bleeped out, but it's pretty outrageous and amusing nonetheless.
The hell in the kitchen plays out over the course of five weeks, and the difficulty and range of Ramsay's culinary expectations increases steadily each week. Gameplay flows in much the same way each day, but things get tougher as more tasks are added to your plate. Seating customers, taking their orders, delivering the food, taking the check, and cleaning their places is all part of the waiter side of the equation. Meanwhile, Ramsay looms over you in the kitchen, as you ready ingredients, cook the meals with precise timing, and send orders out as quickly as possible. Running both ends of the operation is chaotic at first, but it eventually becomes second nature. The goal is not only to do your job well but to keep up a rapid pace to appease Ramsay's impatience and meet strict guidelines. A fiery meter tracks your progress. It rises in intensity, when you make mistakes or neglect customers. Keeping on top of customer's needs in a timely manner and producing quality meals without error lowers the meter. If things reach critical mass, Ramsay kicks you out and shuts down the entire kitchen.
Though it utilizes an extremely simple control scheme, the action in Hell's Kitchen is quite challenging. Moving between the kitchen and the dining room is lightning quick with a simple B button press. Dealing with patrons is as simple as pointing and clicking on their table with the Wii Remote, but the kitchen requires a little more care. The first step to culinary greatness is keeping on top of your prep work. Before a dish can be cooked, the required series of ingredients must be readied in separate colored bowls. Clicking on an ingredient will queue it up, and this is required every time you use a particular item in a dish. Special care must be taken when arranging multiple complex dishes, since adding the last ingredient to a pot will start the cooking process. When tables have multiple customers, certain dishes have to be started at different times in the cooking process, so they'll all be finished at the same time. It's a fun and frantic process.