The term is "shovel-ware": a gaming phrase used to describe the heaps of worthless, quickly cranked-out titles currently choking the Nintendo Wii.
Even EA Games, a major developer, sinks to the Wii's level with the recently announced Celebrity Sports Showdown—a mini-game compilation starring grotesquely caricatured pseudo-celebs competing in such sports as curling and hurdles. I invite any game designer who thinks we want to see Fergie play Kristi Yamaguchi at badminton to lie prostrate in front of a steamroller.
Get out your roach-stompin' shoes and put out that fire, cowboy
Perhaps that's why Order Up!—a wacky, unassuming restaurant simulator from small developer Zoo Games—was shrugged off as yet another Cooking Mama rip-off lost in a sea of crap. After all, Zoo's publisher, DSI Games, is responsible for its share of shovel-ware (M&M's Cart Racing, anyone?). But, like a good greasy spoon, Order Up! will keep players coming back for seconds, regardless of the occasional lipstick on the glass.
Order Up! is a cool drink of iced tea (with free refills!) in the middle of gaming's traditional summer drought—a barren time when most companies are squirreling away major releases for the fall. Combining the fun food-prep elements of Cooking Mama with the customer juggling of Diner Dash, Order Up! kneads it all into a cartoonish sim that throws players into all aspects of the restaurant biz. Yes, that extends to washing dishes in front of a humorless health inspector.
The gameplay makes Cooking Mama seem boring by comparison. Unlike Mama, the challenge lies in cooking multiple orders at once without burning them, adding spices where necessary by way of vague tips ("I like mine stanky," says a hickish patron, which is your clue to add onion powder), and getting it all to the table while it's hot. You even get to flick the Wii-mote and "DING DING!" the window bell when the food is ready, which is way more exciting than it probably should be.
Adding to the feeling of chaos in a hot kitchen are surprise elements, such as rat infestation mini-games and kitchen fires that trip the player up. That, and sometimes your employees fall asleep on the job, triggering a "slap him awake" mini-game, which must be cathartic for McDonalds shift managers everywhere.
The Wii-mote's motion controls are put to full use, and while they're not always responsive to the letter, it's a capable transformation of your remote into a multipurpose chef's knife/rolling pin/spatula. There are so many unique motions, in fact, it will be overwhelming for some. A typical dish requires you to point at an order ticket, drag an ingredient to the prep area, chop, deep fry or spread butter, stir a boiling pot, and then drag the completed item to a plate. All this, and you need to remember that some customers, like Count Steakula, want their hamburger extra, extra, extra bloody. But, after several meals, this all becomes as easy as stomping cockroaches by the deep freezer.
Order Up! is a game that begs to be liked. From the gleefully unnecessary touches (the game comes packed with a "Burger Face" paper fast-food hat) to the little details (your oven always flashes "12:00"), you can't help but laugh at the weird Ed, Edd n Eddy-inspired characters. Sure, most of them walk the line between stereotypical humor and mild racism—like the rice-paddy-hat wearing Chinese guy, or the bandolier-wearing Assistant Chef Santos—but by the time you hire Mr. Jinkies, the psychotic plate-smashing monkey chef, you can't help but laugh along with the developers' intentions.
Order Up! from DSI Games for the Wii, $39.99. ESRB Rating: E (for Eveyone). Score: 7 (out of 10).