Game On

Hot Mama: Cooking Mama for the Wii looks good enough to eat

We've all seen Super Mario eat copious amounts ofmushrooms, but have you ever considered the care that goes into preparing such culinary delicacies?

In Cooking Mama: Cook Off for the Wii, Wolfgang Puck wannabes are thrust into the kitchen—alongside "Mama," the game's titular chef—where they'll chop, sauté and mince virtual vegetables and make-believe meat. A high score will never replace a hot meal, but this sizzling simulator is still an appetizing experience with but a few burnt edges.

A sequel to the Nintendo DS version, Cooking Mama: Cook Off is nearly identical to its predecessor—the key difference being your Wii remote, which now acts as your Ginsu knife instead of the DS stylus. Unfortunately, this means some of the sensory thrills of the previous title (such as blowing in the DS microphone to cool off food and using the screen as a cutting board) are sacrificed with the Wii-mote's "swing it in the air" use of 3D space.

Cooking Mama: Cook Off
Cooking Mama: Cook Off

But while visceral experiences such as chopping are dulled, actions like breaking an egg are actually improved. The Wii-mote, a.k.a. the Master Chef of video-game controllers, knows how hard or soft you swing it—meaning a challenging fine line between an egg in your bowl and one all over your face.

Cooking Mama's gameplay is simpler than buttering bread, relying on only a few instinctive motions: flicking the Wii remote like a pan handle will flip an omelet, and rapidly sawing back and forth cuts a steak.

The only learning curve might come when preparing exotic or unfamiliar foods. How are Americans supposed to know you twist a squid's head off before its oily insides can spill out? Damn you, "Spaghetti and Squid Ink entrée," your recipe counters our every cooking instinct!

Dish preparation is broken down step by step, and simple onscreen instructions are given before each part of the recipe you're attempting. So, even if you burn the beef chuck early on, you'll have the chance to take a breather (and possibly redeem your sorry-ass cooking) before attempting to boil the wine sauce. Undercook ham, however, and Mama will get trichinosis and die a slow death before your eyes. Actually, that doesn't happen. . . . But hey, here's hoping for more gritty realism in a future title.

While the single-player game is mindlessly addictive (simply pick a recipe and outcook your personal best), multiplayer mode is where Cooking Mama turns up the heat. Looking like "Jim Henson's 'Iron Chef Babies,'" the vs. computer mode pits you against cute, wide-eyed anime characters from around the globe. Prepare to shame other countries as you school them at their own cultural dishes. "You call THAT a pierogi? Suck on this, Russia!"

Challenging friends is even more fun as you race against one another to yank legs off a crab, boil beet soup and twirl pizza dough in the air. And in a match in which cheery flute music accompanies the act of violently chopping off roly-poly fish heads, the edge goes to the player who's not too freaked-out to play.

Granted, the Wii already has more mini-game collections than a Big Mac has calories. And yes, Cooking Mama's star (with her high pitched, butchered English squeals of "Wan-dlur-ful!") can be as annoying as a Rachael Ray marathon. But Cooking Mama: Cook Off is undeniably enjoyable as a quick gaming snack; what it lacks in meaty substance it makes up for with offbeat innovation and brisk fun. Just don't be surprised when you mysteriously crave "Galacian-style octopus" afterward.

Cooking Mama: Cook Off from Majesco for the Wii. $49.99. ESRB Rating: E (For Everyone). Score: 7 (out of 10)

 
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