Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends DS Review

Reviewing casual games like Cooking Mama 2 can be a really frustrating experience, because there's so many legitimate ways to approach criticizing such titles. I'm not one to pull my punches, but it's hard to simply dismiss something for not being exactly what you'd wish it to be. Because let's face it, there is now a huge market out there who loves such non threatening videogames. Truth be told, though, Cooking Mama is always on the edge of being a genuinely classical arcade game with a unique subject matter. So it's irritating not because it's so casual, but because it comes so close to being something more on so many occasions.

One shouldn't play this game expecting to become the next Emeril Lagasse - none of the recipes really go the full length toward explaining how something is made, and the processes are all extremely streamlined for DS functionality. As the process goes, you're slowly taught to use various cooking tools and to make things in specific ways. Eventually the game will start complicating the process by adding more steps or another twist, but the general gameplay remains straightforward and easily accessible. Based on how well you perform each step, you'll be rated by the very charming and excessively cute "Mama" which is where my instinctive hardcore nature kicks in since I'm always out to get the best score.

All of this is fine, but Cooking Mama 2: Dinner With Friends - just like its predecessor - always seems to be holding out on reaching the next level of challenge, perhaps as a reflex of trying to keep it within the abilities of random casual gamers. Adding in a few more steps, judging things a bit more harshly, giving more complex and deep recipes would have gone a long way toward making the package feel like it appeals to both groups of gamers. As it stands it even recycles much of its content from the original Cooking Mama which smacks of laziness and helps to reinforce just how shallow it really is.

And I wish it did go the next mile, because the core is certainly in place. It just feels right to play mechanically, and abilities like chopping, cracking eggs, and mixing work well with the DS touch screen. It's not a game you can do on traditional systems, and the Mama relishes in this fact. Developer Office Create did try to add things like multiplayer, but perplexingly it strips the main game to its extreme basics and thus removes any of the fun. It then just becomes like playing simple mini-games that just happen to have cooking as a theme, and they'd put even the most hardcore fan to sleep. Even my sister, who adored the original and this sequel in most ways, got bored of it after a few minutes... which is a shame, since there's a lot of potential in competitive cooking.

Rounding out the package is the incentives you get for acing cooking challenges. Most of it is related to customizing Mama herself, as you'll receive clothes, wacky accessories and more to lighten things up. I'm probably not the right audience for this, but this virtual doll dress-up held no appeal whatsoever and is just a really lame way to add content so that you may be a little more compelled to move forward. It didn't work for me, but then again I didn't play with barbies growing up. At the very least, Cooking Mama 2 still retains a attractive presentation and style that is always disarming its audience, and you can't help but smile when you're complimented by the title character.

If this were the first in the franchise, I'd be a bit more forgiving I think. But I'm of the thought that sequels are meant to expand meaningfully on what came before, thus allowing you to put the skills you built before to even greater use. Obviously there still has to be some simple tutorials for those experiencing it for the first time, but it wouldn't hurt to start building challenges for hardcore gamers to dig into. If you're the type of person playing this for the first time, it might rank a bit higher for you. That's definitely something to take into consideration when deciding if the game is for you. But as a return player, it barely added anything of significance to improve gameplay and the multiplayer they added actually worsened the overall value. The next Cooking Mama should break free of the fear of challenging players if it ever expects to be something more than a very slight diversion. With a lot more time in the oven, this franchise could turn into something great.

What's Hot: Cooking Mama herself; style and controls

What's Not: Lots of rehashing from original, terrible multiplayer, lame rewards