It’s about time I reviewed my second handheld game, and Cooking Mama gets that distinction, a very off-beat, very Japanese game that tasks you with preparing dishes under the watchful eye of Cooking Mama. Who is this culinary genius? Well, some lady in a pink bandana and yellow apron, I guess – there’s no back story to tell why you’re learning under her. Is she supposed to be your – the player’s – Mama? This is never answered, and it’s bothered me endlessly.

In Cooking Mama, you use the stylus as your Master Kitchen Tool to prepare 76 different dishes, from boiled rice to hand rolled sushi. The game is basically a bunch of minigames taped together to simulate cooking the different dishes. For example, the first dish, boiled rice, asks you to first measure rice, then water,  mix the two, stir like hell and then set a timer. Each mini-game is itself timed, so you can’t just screw around and see what comes up – you have to do it just like Cooking Mama says, or else. Or else what? Or else you’ll be making Instant Ramen instead. Honestly.

From chopping, to sautéing, to mixing, to measuring, and even grating, this is a fairly interesting diversion for those of us who love cooking shows  but have no further culinary skill beyond ordering pizza. Some of the minigames are poorly explained while others – like peeling – are poorly implemented, but overall it’s a decent package.

You can also test your skill in the different minigames to achieve high scores, but there’s no real reason to do this. You don’t earn anything other then Cooking Mama’s praise – and you know by now how I feel about her opinion.

Allot of the dishes are Japanese in nature (sushi, takoyaki) or from other south-east Asian cuisines. A few are ambiguous, like the sandwich and beef steak, and there are a few purely western dishes like pizza and spaghetti.

The graphics are average at best. It’s all very cartoony and very simplistic, which I guess fits the style. The sounds are almost non-existent beyond the cooking noises and a few chimes and dings to let you know how you did. The game does use all of the DS’s features, including the microphone for blowing on hot food. Perhaps my favorite part is when I’m permitted to plate the dishes by hand. This taking of the presentation out of the game’s control makes me feel much more like a chef.

The game’s biggest shortcoming has to be the time limit. I understand that it’s needed to add a challenge to the game, but unless this is Iron Chef: Cooking Mama, it’s needless pressure. I’d rather be able to cook at my leisure. Some tasks are especially hard under this restriction when the game doesn’t recognize your stylus movements accurately (again, see: peeling).

Do I like Cooking Mama? Yeah, it’s fun for short bursts, but doesn’t have a lasting appeal after you’ve mastered all of the dishes. No multiplayer is a major oversight. However, as I said in this review’s tagline, this is Gaming’s equivalent to fast food: it’s quick, easy, and fairly satisfying, but doesn’t stay with you for very long. Alphasim out.