Cooking Mama is a series that never should’ve worked as anything besides ridiculous novelty. It’s a game with a bunch of silly mini-games about cooking. Yet it’s had three DS titles, two Wii titles, several spin-offs, and even more entries into the franchise coming soon. North America sales alone are 8.5 million. And Shop & Chop is easily the best iteration of the game yet.
If you haven’t played Cooking Mama before, it’s an easy game to jump into. You pick a recipe, and each recipe has various steps. Depending on what it is, you may need to cut ingredients, mix them up, crack an egg, or grill things, to give a small sampling. Each step is graded as either gold for doing it perfect, silver for doing it OK, or bronze for completely messing it up, all accompanied with hilarious Engrish quotes from Mama.
So really, the big thing that makes the game is the variety of mini-games, since otherwise, you’re just doing the same thing over and over. And this game adds in even more variety, and fixes games that used to be more difficult. For instance, cracking eggs now has two different mini-games associated with it. Stir-frying ingredients has three, and the classic one has been made a lot simpler. You used to have to try to time putting in your ingredients. Now, it tells you when to put them in. What used to be a complete game of luck has been made a lot easier. I go a perfect score both times it came up. With all the variety, though, it’s a bit disappointing to see some boring or difficult games still around. Peeling stuff has never been particularly fun, and I’ve never figured out the trick to straining ingredients without relying on luck. The worst is the meat-grinding game, which requires you to spin your stylus in a clockwise motion. Every other mini-game with spinning lets you choose between clockwise or counter-clockwise (which I find a lot easier), so it’s weird that this forces you into one direction.
The game’s other big strength is the sheer ridiculousness of the mini-games you play. Oh sure, it would be a lot easier to press your fork on the gnocchi if they were sitting still instead of rolling by, but where’s the fun in that? Why are bones suddenly appearing while you’re trying to put icing on cookies? Who knows? Mama’s world seems to exist in some crazy land where this makes sense, where hamburger ingredients fall from the sky and you have to catch them, where pulling off grapes in the wrong direction sends them flying. It’s the complete charm of the game. If it was normal, it would just be shovelware. Since it’s so over-the-top, it’s just so enjoyable. Oh, and instant ramen is back. Yes, one of the dishes you have to make is instant ramen, and one of the mini-games requires you to open the packaging. I love it.
The really new element to this game is the other half of the title: shopping. It’s nice to have something new like this added to the game, but it’s not very interesting. You tap with your stylus around the grocery store, finding ingredients and trying not to run into other customers. It really should’ve used the D-pad for this. As it is, you have to rely on the pathfinding, which can be weird at times, and you don’t get the good sense of control you would have with a D-pad. If you run into another customer, you either lose a heart, or you have to play a mini-game. This is more of the madness the mode needs. For instance, running into a grocery store employee giving out free samples entered me into a game where I had to tap flying dishes to eat all of them. The main part should’ve been just as ridiculous as this. Make me bag the items in a Tetris-game, try to pick out correct change for the cashier, have to avoid running into customers with my shopping cart. Don’t make the mini-games only come up by running into something I’m trying to avoid. The other problem with this mode is that it’s a separate menu item from the cooking. There really should’ve been better integration, or at least a good reason to go shopping from time to time.
Overall, Cooking Mama 3 is the franchise’s greatest. If you love Cooking Mama, it’s a must-play. If you haven’t played Cooking Mama, this is the perfect time to do so. 4 is coming out soon, you’ve got to catch up.