E. Coli Breeding Ground
I wanted to like Cooking Mama: Cookstar so much more than I did. I love the adorable, laid back nature of the franchise, and a lot of the recipes end up being reasonably practical and easy to make at home. For those reasons, I still found shredded cheese-sized bits of enjoyment in Cookstar. It’s everything else the game does that has me wanting to turn the gas on and light a match. Behind Mama’s as-lovable-as-ever demeanor, you’ll find a mess of broken motion controls, a lack of any real progression system, and overall something that feels like a cheap cellphone port. It’s hard not to wonder why this wasn’t eighty-sixed and the kitchen closed for repairs.
If there is one thing that the Switch assuredly has a leg up on the competition with, it would be the motion controls and haptic feedback in the Joy-Cons. Many of the best games on the system utilize the Joy-Cons in a way as to make the player feel further connected to what’s happening on screen. Cookstar is the first title I’ve played on the system to have nearly unusable motion controls, and it’s devastating to the final product. At times, activities will seem to register as they should, but the majority of your inputs are often unrecognized. This was supposed to be the selling point of Cooking Mama on the Switch – Motion controls that would make you feel as if you were actually cooking. Instead, you’re forced to play the game in handheld mode.
I know Cooking Mama isn’t a series known for its brutal difficulties, but the recipes on tap here are already made easy enough, to begin with. Throw in a dash of handheld mode, and you quickly understand you’ll breeze through the 80 or so recipes in no time whatsoever. Because the touchscreen isn’t made use of (a baffling decision that I’ll never get), every mini-game boils down to flicking your analog stick in one of a few directions or pressing a button. All recipes will play out in the same way, and my patience wore thin when the realization hit me of just how hollow and empty Cookstar really is.
Cooking Without Gas
You won’t find a career mode or any sort of compelling progression here, either. You begin the game with three modes to select from, but the regular and vegetarian selections can, for all intents and purposes, be condensed into a single option. The recipes are the same between the two modes, however, for example, a beef patty will be replaced with black beans. Whichever side tickles your pickle, the format breaks down like this – Cook a recipe, take a picture of it, receive utterly meaningless likes from a mock Twitter system, and repeat the process. There’s no cash, no expensive kitchen upgrades, hell, Mama barely interacts with you outside of her (I’ll admit) adorable quips she makes after completing steps of your recipe. You can acquire new clothing items for Mama, but trust me when I say that it’ll take all of three or four unlocks before the honeymoon period wears off, and you’re ready to go back to Animal Crossing.
The multiplayer mode is a crude spectacle of baby-difficulty mini-games in which two players share tasks that are entirely mundane and lacking in longevity. Some of them end up being enjoyable for a round or two, and some of them are utter garbage from the get-go. There are only ten of them, so I won’t spoil any, but regardless of what you like and dislike, everything will be played out and boring after a couple of hours. If that.
As my time with Cookstar went on, the overpowering sense that I was playing the port of a cellphone game routinely lurked behind me. The only thing you can really do while playing is to share the photos you take of your food to Twitter and Facebook. In other words, if you’ve been wishing the majority of your friends and family would block you from social media, this is the perfect investment for you. The photo mode itself is a deeper-than-expected representation of something like an Instagram. You can apply filters and stickers as you see fit, and adjust the camera to get the money shot you undoubtedly deserve.
If you’re even able to find a copy of Cooking Mama: Cookstar, you should probably reconsider where you’re spending your money. I know there’s a fanbase for the series that are vehemently wishing that the game will be good and that the bizarre story behind its release is all just an unlucky set of circumstances. But the fact of the matter is, Cookstar has nuked the kitchen and left us standing among a snowfall of ash and burnt Chicken Tikka Masala. I hate to say it, but the series may be cooked.
***Review copy provided by the publisher***
- Mama Is Still Adorable
- Decent Photo Mode
- Feels Like a Cheap Cellphone Port
- Motion Controls Are Highly Inconsistent
- Gets Old Quickly
- Lacks Any Real Substance