Everyone loves food, and in recent years it's become apparent that just about everyone likes mini-games. Combine these two and you get Cooking Mama 2: Dinner With Friends, the sequel to last year's surprise hit. It's as cute and charming as the first, and fixed some of the prequel's problems, but there's still a few issues that have been left untouched.
The premise for Cooking Mama 2 is pretty straightforward. Each task involved in creating a dish is a mini-game. Mama gives instructions before each, and a rating afterwards. Cut, chop, slice, blend, strain, bake, fry, filet, skewer, and many other jobs are combined to make a huge variety of food. Each dish is rated once complete, and nailing the 100%, and earning the gold medal that comes with it, requires perfection on every task.
Cooking Mama 2 is little more than a likeable casual game rather than anything great.
That's not really a problem with a bit of practice though, and it's why Cooking Mama 2 is little more than a likeable casual game rather than anything great. No matter how far in to the game you go, the mini-games are going to be the exact same thing each time they show up, with no increase in difficulty. Once you know how to deep-fry, every deep-fried item is exactly the same. Drag the item from the rack, drop it in the fryer, and when it's risen back to the surface and darkened, move it to the plate. The timing might be a bit tricky the first time or two, but after that it becomes a race against the timer to earn a bonus star.
Each task is a race against the clock, and stars are awarded for completing the job in under half the available time. Some tasks can even be completed in a third of the time or less, once you know what you're doing, practically guaranteeing an end-of-level bonus gift. After every five stars, three presents appear that contain everything from stickers for your food diary, to kitchen themes, and even clothes for Mama. I put her in a kimono, since there was something fundamentally wrong with seeing her in a cheerleading outfit.
This time around, Mama isn't the only person to impress. The first game mode, Cooking With Mama, will be familiar to series vets, with Mama overseeing each dish and helping out when things go wrong, but the new Let's Cook mode assumes you know what you're doing. There are ten friends to cook for, each with their favorite dishes, and failing even one step of the process means inedible food and a score of zero. The mini-games follow one after another with no break for judgment in between, keeping the tempo quick and the pressure on. It's still not that hard to succeed, but the faster pace and possibility of actual failure are welcome additions.
It's probably unfair to harp on Cooking Mama 2's easygoing nature though. It's a cute and charming kids' game, after all, with a lot of variety centered around a worthwhile activity. The number of mini-games is impressive, and the DS's touch screen is consistently put to good use as you tap a sieve to sift flour, or draw lines to slice up items and turn handles on a variety of devices. Cooking Mama 2 won't teach you to cook any more than Guitar Hero teaches guitar, but it reproduces the activities in a fun and accessible style. It's cute and casual, Mama is voiced by someone who's obviously never spoken a word of English in her life, and there's even single-cart four-player available. All they need to do is throw in an Adult difficulty level requiring more speed and precision and it'd be as close to perfect as this kind of game can get. Until that happens, though, it's best to get Cooking Mama 2: Dinner With Friends for a younger relative, and then borrow it when they aren't looking.