Looking Back at Cooking Mama

The original Cooking Mama is an important game. Yes, I’m going there and no, I’m not joking. Though I normally don’t cover casual games, I wanted to take the time out to look back at a game that saved a company from going out of business, a game that spawned a multi-million selling franchise (not including spin-offs) and was a trailblazer in the casual games movement. It also taught me just enough about real-life cooking that when my girlfriend and I cook together (which doesn’t happen often), I can relate my understanding of some of the tasks she assigns me to do back to my time with Cooking Mama. She shakes her head every single time, but I digress, as that isn’t the story I want to tell today.

Let’s take it back to 2006. Majesco, the publisher of Cooking Mama, was in dire straights. They had bet the farm on Advent Rising, which was a big-budget action game for the PC and XBOX. Unfortunately for them, the game was a huge flop. Sales were so low, that Majesco almost went out of business.

With not much left in the bank, Majesco placed their bets this time on this handheld casual game, before the term “casual game” really caught on. Prior to its release (and it’s 2006 IGN’s best of E3 award), I loved the game in concept. As someone who enjoys seeing the medium of video games go to different and unfamiliar places, I thought it was great that someone would make a game out of subject matter as mundane as cooking. By the time IGN gave it that best of E3 award, I was sold.

I bought the original Cooking Mama on the day it came out. I played it through to completion on the first day and…that was it. To be fair, the Cooking Mama games aren’t necessarily the most tight-knit gameplay experiences. With this first one, while the core idea was great, and it was fun for a while, the game was hurt by not offering much to do beyond play through each recipe once, and by the fact that the controls were unresponsive in certain mini-games. I’ve played some of the more recent Cooking Mama games, and they’ve tried to address both issues, but they never seem to go all the way with their fixes.

Does it matter? Not really. The Cooking Mama games were never for people like me, who would nitpick at things like replay value or controls. Not to say that these things aren’t a factor to the audience that this game is made for, but they’re more likely to enjoy it for the fun mini-games, the simulated cooking experience, and Mama, whose heavy Japanese accent makes her voice as charming as it is difficult to understand. Fans enjoyed it to the tune of over 5 million copies sold worldwide. As a franchise (not including spin-offs) the series has sold over 13 million copies, which is unreal.

To this day, I still champion the original game and the series to anyone I think would be interested in them. Not every game has to be Call of Duty, and I’m glad we live in a world where games like Cooking Mama can exist and thrive.

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