Review: What’s Cooking: Jaime Oliver
by Alex Lucard on December 8, 2008

What’s Cooking: Jaime Oliver
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Atari
Genre: Cooking
Release Date: 10/21/2008


When one writes critiques for a while, you become known for specific genres and franchises. In my case I’m historically been the guy you turn to for Shoot ‘Em Ups, 2-D Fighters, Tactical RPG’s and Pokemon. Recently I appear to have picked up two new genres: Adventure gaming and Cooking simulations. This is probably because of my background as a cooking columnist, but this year I’ve already written critiques on Hell’s Kitchen and Gourmet Chef. Now I’m turning my attention to yet another cooking game based off a Celebrity Chef. Thankfully it’s not that douchebag Guy Fieri. Nope, it’s England’s own Jamie Oliver. Now I know what the average reader is thinking. “Ew, British cooking. That’s a torture not even fit for Guantanamo.”, and as an ex-resident of the British Isles, I do concur with that statement, but Mr. Oliver is indeed an exception. He’s an excellent cook who has really brought the focus away from crud like Bubble and Squeak in Wow-Wow sauce, savory pies and baked beans on toast with a side of dripping. As the game was a mere $9.90 on Black Friday, I decided to pick this up and give it a whirl since December is generally a slow time for gaming content.

The only question here is, can What’s Cooking play as well as Jaime Oliver cooks.

Let’s Review

1. Modes

I’ll be honest right out of the chute – the only reason to buy this game is for the amazing cookbook it contains. With recipes for exceptional Chinese Crispy Duck and a mouth-watering Mulligatawny soup along with over a hundred more, What’s Cooking makes for a must-have addition to any budding chef’s cookbook collection. At under $10, it’s far cheaper than paper cookbooks and boasts more recipes that you would usually find from a celebrity chef.

The game also lets you port the ingredients for recipes you are going to cook into a shopping list that you can save and take with you to the grocery store. This is a wonderful idea that every cooking game should have, especially when it hands you real world recipes. I am in love with this feature and hope to see it more often. It even gives you exact measurements so you don’t over-purchase. Another must have feature.

The final of the three real world features is that you can create your own recipes and send them to friends over the DS’s Wi-Fi system. You can also receive recipes from other friends. This is a great idea in practice, but you have to register people with your DS, so you have to know the person in order to get their ideas. This I is something I really dislike, because I would love to receive dish designs from complete strangers. On the other hand, this does prevent people from getting recipes entitled, “Hemlock and Feces Soufflé.”

But then we have the games. The awful awful games. First up is Test Kitchen, which is primarily hand held tutorials. As you progress through the test kitchen you unlock NEW test kitchens and recipes that the game walks you through constantly. There is no skill or talent involved. It’s just following instructions. Very boring. On the flip side is “Cook Off” which involves two versions of timed cooking trials. Sadly, this mode is even worse, as the timer is really vague, there is no true indication of how you are doing and you seem to be awarded points arbitrarily.

Basically you have a mediocre to poor cooking game, but one of Jaime Oliver’s best cookbooks yet. I really love the innovation with the shopping list and the ability to share recipes, but out of the three cooking games I’ve played this year, What’s Cooking is the worst.

Stay for the cookbook and ONLY the cookbook.

Modes Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

There are a lot of still photos of Jaime Oliver in the game, but they are noticeably pixilated. The same holds true for the pictures of the recipes. For some reason the quality of real life photos are grainy on this cart. It’s still enjoyable, but Atari could have done much better.

The in game graphics are much better, with this being the best LOOKING cooking game so far. Every utensil looks exactly as they do in real life, and the same holds true for the food stuffs. Prawns look like prawns. Meat is not just an indeterminable blob ala Hell’s Kitchen. You are put through every step of the recipe as you would do it in real life without any arcadey gimmicks or features, although you can speed time up on recipes that would normally take thirty minutes to an hour to bake, boil, or sauté. Although the realism and graphics are spot on, my question is, “Why would you want to do an exact replica of cooking these dishes, when you have the real recipes and can make and thus eat them in real life?” Just a thought.

This is a very pretty game. It by no means pushes the graphical limits of the DS, but it’s by far the most realistic kitchen crammed with an array of food I’ve seen in a video game so far.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

Although Jaime Oliver has recorded a great deal of voice work for this game, it is the only enjoyable aspect of the sound. The music in this game, is arguably the worst I have heard in any video game this year. There are a dozen or so music tracks you can change via the radio in your kitchen, but all are awful. Seriously, set the music to mute and you’ll be a lot happier. One thing of note about the music was that there was a track entitled, “The Death of Ian Stone” which is an obscure British movie from the 2007 Horrorfest selections. And it sucked.

The sound effects are well done. Everything from boiling water to the slicing of lemons sounds exactly as it would in your own kitchen and so kudos to Atari for getting the realism aspects of the game down, even if they missed the boat on the fun aspects.

Spot on voice acting by Jaime as he treats the game as if he was doing an episode of The Naked Chef and some very accurate effects, but the music will make you want to jab a pencil in your eardrums. Again, worst music in a game so far this year. Two out of three isn’t bad though, eh?

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

There are no real controls to the cookbook, it’s just pressing buttons and scrolling. The problem here is that the buttons can be a bit confusing, and you may find yourself storing a recipe in your grocery list because you thought the arrow point left meant “Next.” Even the manual doesn’t tell you this, so expect a decent amount of frustration the first time you use it.

The cooking games are even worse. Everything is divided into menus and sub menus and only rote memorization will help you get better at the game. There are 39 different actions you can take, separated only by vague images that may or may not mean what you think they do. There are three main menus of food products, cooking appliances and dishes, each containing multiple items, many of which aren’t needed for your dish. There are also eight buttons at the top of the screen that represent various stations in the kitchen. You’ll have to drag items from the menu to the station, than press the station button to get out of the menu. There’s also a limited number of items you can have out at a station (something the game never tells you and you learn the hard way) so you’ll be constantly bringing out and putting back items.

The worst part of it all is that as you are make a recipe in the game portion, the pages of the recipe do not automatically advance ala Gourmet Chef. You have to manually go in and “flip” the page, which is a bit more contrived that one would expect. You have to flip screens to just the recipe, then flip the page, than flip screen back to normal. As the recipe takes up the top screen, one would think that would be a quick “page turn” button on the touch screen, but there is not. Awful.

The actual in-game cooking bits are realistic, but control detection is not there. I’m slicing something, but sometimes it won’t accept the motion. I want to pick up all the pieces of a sliced object, but one stays on the cutting board. There’s also no way to tell if you’ve put in too much or too little of an object – at least not an obvious one. In one of the two challenge modes, you have to look at the timer icon rather than the items you are using. If it flashes green, you did it right. Yellow or red flashes means slight or really off. Now why would you put the quality indicator in the time? God only knows.

I really don’t recommend playing this game as it’s far too convoluted, vague and badly designed to be any fun. Test Kitchen has none of the vague scoring issues, but it is just hand holding through recipes. Even the cookbook has issues in terms of wading through it. This is just very badly done all around.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Bad

5. Replayability

The more recipes you do correctly, the more you get to do. I guess this would be rewarding if you understood how scoring works or the modes were a little less vague. To be honest, after 15 minutes with this game, there will be only one reason to pick this up again – for the cookbook. And that doesn’t really count as playing, now does it? It really is an excellent cookbook with every step laid out for a beginning cook, but this is a video game after all and the video game aspects are simply retched. Bad controls, bad music, no real reward or anything clearly marked. This game was more vague in regards to how things work and what your overall goal is than Baroque.

Replayability Rating: Dreadful

6. Balance

This is a very hard category to rate in this game because really, there is no actual description of how the game works either in the manual or the game itself. No description of how scoring works, what your time limit is, what’s a good job, what’s a bad job, or anything. You are just thrown into the ocean and expected to be able to swim. This is a very dangerous precedent to set regarding cooking, as improper technique and bad habits can lead to food poisoning or worse.

With no clear direction or description of how to achieve a high score, your best bet it to go through the Test Kitchen repeatedly to learn all the motions and uses of the stylus in order to at least get that bit right. I’m still rather shocked at how poorly done this was.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

Well the shopping list and fully fleshed out cookbook was a step in the right direction, but the DS has been flooded with cooking games ever since the very first Cooking Mama. It is nice to see some real detail being paid to sound effects and graphics, but the actual game itself is pretty hideous. There was some real attempts at innovation here and I can respect that, but the developers put so many options in, the game is just too unwieldy and at times nonsensical.

Still at a little under ten dollars, you can’t go wrong with the cook book and shopping list features.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

Ha ha ha. No. I hated every moment of this game after the first horribly laid out tutorial, and I generally love cooking games. This was just awful in every way. Trying to maneuver through the menus, or not having any idea if I am putting too much salt in or if I’ve stirred the bowl enough as everything looks pretty much the same just turned me off like I was playing.

I did enjoy going through the cookbook though. There are some excellent recipes and I will be keeping this game in my collection just to cook some of these. In that respect, I’ll be coming back to What’s Cooking for quite some time, just not in the main way Atari wants me to.

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless

9. Appeal Factor

This is one of those games I can say with certainty that no one will enjoy. Those of us who excel at cooking will be annoyed by the layout, menu options and the lack of detail. Casual gamers will be far too overwhelmed by the actual game mechanics and the lack of direction. The only thing, and I mean ONLY thing that is appealing about this game is the wonderful cookbook with a great variety of recipes that anyone can make with a little practice. For those of you single bachelors, this is a great ten dollar investment to learn how to cook and impress your friends and dates. Fans of Jaime Oliver will be able to appreciate the cookbook as well, but unless you want a digital cookbook over a paper one AND you plan on using it regularly, there is utterly no reason to pick this up. So don’t.

Appeal Factor: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous

Let’s make this simple: Awful game that should never had been made coupled with the best digital cook book I’ve ever seen. This game would be getting a MUCH higher rating if it was just the cookbook, and a much lower one if it had just been the hideous game. The two rather balance each other out, but the bad overweighs the good as the navigation issues touch even the cookbook. Ten dollars is staggeringly cheap for a cookbook though, and Jaime Oliver is an excellent chef and the recipe selection ensures anyone can enjoy it. For that reason, and that reason alone, I would recommend picking up this title.
The overall package may be awful, but ten dollars for the recipes includes (all of which are unlocked from the getgo) makes this an ideal price point, especially when coupled with the shopping list feature.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Good
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Very Bad
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Bad
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

If you’re looking for a more realistic cooking experience, get Gourmet Chef which has a whimiscal story to boot. If you want a more arcade-y feel with a celebrity chef, get Hell’s Kitchen. What’s Cooking: Jaime Oliver is badly designed hodge podge of ideras that looked decent on paper but were executed so poorly, I can’t recommend the game aspects to anyone. The bright side is that this game contains the best digital cookbook I’ve ever seen. As it is only ten dollars and the cook book is completely independent from the game itself, anyone interested in cooking at all may find this a worthy purchase, especially considering the amount of space and money a paper cookbook can take up.



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Alex Lucard

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