Don't Burn Mama's Grits

Nintendo's new Cooking Mama game gets players into the kitchen to rattle those pots and pans

Cooking requires great care and attention with each and every meal. Mess up the preparation and Chicken Parmesan looks more like something found in a KFC dumpster. Cooking classes offer assistance, but gamers may need something more interactive and less expensive. With that, here comes Cooking Mama: Cook Off, ready to fry up a storm on Nintendo Wii this March.

The game follows up on the 2006 Nintendo DS hit, Cooking Mama. In the game, players move through a series of mini-games to create tasty meals. It challenges players to master numerous kitchen utensils including a knife (to cut up the meat or vegetables), a strainer (to tip over to get the water out) and a frying pan (to flip around and stir food), among others. If done correctly, the cooking teacher, Mama, rewards them with praise. Failure results in her eyes flaming and her anger level rising.

Cook Off requires players to move their Wii remotes to complete the mini-games. Mashing potatoes involves holding the controller in an upward fashion and pounding down. To shake up food in a frying pan, players hold the Wii remote with both hands, like an actual panhandle.

Masjeco packed over fifty lunches and dinners into the game, with hundreds of food ingredients. (Fortunately, the ingredients come pre-chosen, so gamers won't mistakably add fish to a pepperoni pizza.) Many of these dishes come from overseas, so players skilled in making Chinese meals may struggle putting together a Mexican delicacy. As players proceed through the game, new items become unlocked as well, further challenging them.

Throughout single-player mode, players add to the supplies in their kitchen. Ten different computer-controlled opponents compete against them at each stage. Once beaten, these fallen foes hand over something new, such as an oven mitt or another needed utensil. (It would be cool to see a "Kiss the Chef" apron pop up somewhere in the collection... well, maybe not.) The game also rewards medals for each completed dish, ranging from bronze (okay) to gold (outstanding, in a Wolfgang Puck kind of way).

Unsurprisingly, the game's graphics show a huge improvement over the DS version. Food looks more realistic, even though the game retains its cartoon-like appearance. The added realism lets players know when they burn something. Take meat, for example. If it looks pink, the player didn't cook it enough, but it can also be burned beyond all recognition, turning a disheartening black. Fortunately, the game lets players react quickly, saving their meals before Mama goes off her rocker.

Cook Off's biggest feature, a two-player Cooking Challenge Mode, pits two chefs against one another to see who creates a quality feast in the fastest time possible. Speed matters, but so does quality—rush through a dish and gamers run the risk of losing the challenge.

To those who continue to fail, don't worry—Cook Off features a helpful tutorial/practice mode so players get the hang of their new skills.

Cooking Mama: Cook Off looks like a fine addition to the Nintendo Wii library. Anyone can bowl, drive and shoot things with the Wii remote, but how many can make sushi rolls without breaking a sweat? Gamers will uncover their inner chef when the game arrives March 20.