Review: Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked (Nintendo Wii)

Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Red Fly Studio
Genre: Cooking Simulation
Release Date: 11/03/2009

There are lots of genres I’ve become known for at the “go-to” guy amongst my friends, fellow writers and audience. Shoot ’em Ups. 2-D fighters. Sega Saturn games. Tactical RPG’s. Cooking games. Wait. What was that last one? Cooking games?

This may seem a bit odd, but it is in fact so. Over the years I’ve reviewed the following titles: My Healthy Cooking Coach, Personal Trainer: Cooking , What’s Cooking – Jaime Oliver, Hell’s Kitchen: The Game and Gourmet Chef.

Now you’ll notice those are all games either based of celebrity chefs or that purport to be games that actually teach one how to cook. You will not see me review the Cooking Mama games, as I leave that to the rest of my staff, because I feel they are more arcadey than an actual cooking experience. You’ll also notice one major celebrity cooking game missing from that list and that’s Iron Chef America, Well, that’s because that game was so god awful I couldn’t be bothered to review it and because I absolutely loathe what the Food Network has done to the legacy of Iron Chef, my review would have been a ten page rant about what’s they’ve changed, how they’ve turned it into the lowest common denominator, how both sides know the ingredient before hand and how the results are fixed as often as Pro Wrestling. It’s a disgraceful product across the board.

Which brings me to the Food Network in general. I was watching Food Network in the early 1990’s when it was still called Food TV. I watched a young(er) Emeril Legasse single handedly save the network from bankruptcy and then be turned out on his ass because he was too highbrow for the new demographic they were aiming for with horrible unhealthy crap spewed out by Paula Deen and Sandra Lee, neither of who can actually cook. I watching high quality chefs like Ming Tsai be pushed aside for frosted tips douchebags like Guy Feiri whose big meals are burgers and mashed potatoes. I watched the Japanese Iron Chef be milked for all it was worth, and Food Network executives pitch a screaming fit to let Bobby Flay win his rematch against Morimoto and then I pitched a fit myself when they started Iron Chef America and again fixed it so Morimoto and Sakai would lose all their matches even though they were better meals because as Food Network executives put it, “They had to lose or no one would watch the new show.” All these things (and more) combine to make me really HATE the Food Network. It’s not all bad though. Alton Brown’s Good Eats and Feasting on Asphalt remain quality programs and they’ll try to milk Tony Bourdain’s old show for ratings, but for the most part, the Food Network has been a vile channel for the past four or five years and the declining ratings since 2007 show just that.

So after all that, you’re probably wondering why I am reviewing this game. Quite simply, it’s a cooking game and no one else on staff would have thought to. That and I was curious to see what recipes would be given in this game and what kinds of cooking advice they would dispense. With the current Food Network regime, this had the potential to either be so bad it was fun. That and my usual insane optimism that maybe they’d finally turn a corner back to respectability.

So how was it?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

First up I have to take the game to task for outright lying on the box and in promotional materials. It says, “Over 30 delicious Food Network recipes.” Well, this is not true at all. There are a grand total of TWELVE recipes. I know this because upon beating all twelve recipes I received a congratulations that I had beaten the game and that i should go back for a perfect score. Oh, and the hosts said, “You’re a good cook.” So, either someone at Food Network, Namco Bandai or Red Fly don’t know how to count, or they are counting say, cooking bacon for a bacon filled grilled cheese as a separate recipe. Either way, this is pretty shady at best and outright fraud at worst. The twelve recipes took me about five hours to complete and that was including time left leaving the system on while I had to do something else, like go to the bathroom or talk on the phone, and me redoing recipes to get all gold medals. That’s…pretty bad, considering all of those above titles I mentioned will last far longer and were less expensive than Cook or Be Cooked when they came out and are even cheaper now. I suppose you could count boiling water in the tutorial at the 13th recipe if you really want to, but honestly…BOILING WATER AS A RECIPE?

Your modes are the following: Solo Play, in which you cook any of the twelve recipes I talked about earlier, Hot Potato, where you pass the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo to other people and work as a team, and Cook Off, where you and a friend go at it in split screen cooking battles. All of these modes are narrated by two Food Network employees. The first is Susie Fogelson, Vice President of Marketing, who I hold personally responsible for a lot of the horrors showcased at the Food Network right now (Such as “The Next Food Network Star” which gave us Guy Fieri), and Mory Thomas, the Manager of Culinary Product Development who is just FAAAAAAABULOUS, if you know what I mean.

Although it’s nice to see three different modes of play, the fact you only have twelve recipes in this $39.99 game is a bit of a kick to the groin. There’s not enough content for any of the modes, and the fact all three share the same few recipes just means you’re going to get bored with repetition rather than going, “Oh, a new way to play this same recipe.” Surprisingly Morty and Susie’s banter is one of the highlights of playing through each recipe, although there were times I purposely messed things up because I wanted to poison them both.
Cook or Be Cooked is shallow, simplistic and gives you far less than what you thought you’d be getting. Much like the real Food Network.

Modes Rating: Bad

2. Graphics

I’ll be honest, this is one of the highlights of the game. Unlike a lot of cooking games, Cook or Be Cooked actually shows the food COOKING. You would think this would be common place, but it is in fact not so. You can watch water boil, meats darken, sauces thicken and more. I was really happy to see this and best of all, the food all looks (more or less) like it would in real life. While other cooking games may be more fun, Cook or be Cooked actually LOOKS like you are cooking, and that’s what counts.

There are only two people in the game, and that’s Suzie and Morty. Neither representation is going to win awards for character modeling, but both look pretty good, especially for the Wii. Facial expressions are of special note as you rarely get this level of non-verbal emotions out of a computerized character. This was actually pretty impressive and Red Fly deserves a big kudos for a level of detail I haven’t even seen in a PS3 or 360 game. Plus it was hilarious to purposely make something wrong and see them grimace in horror and repulsion. Of if only I could have added some hemlock to that coffee…

Very nice visuals here, although they probably won’t be appreciate unless you’re an active cook or pay special attention to the little nuances of modeling.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

This is another area where the game is surprisingly good. Susie is a bit wooden at times with her lines, but she’s like that in real life, so I give her a pass there. Morty is just so flaming with his delivery that it’s hard for me to hate him and I’m sure you’ll get an unintentional chuckle out of his delivery as well. The script for both characters is actually well done and although it might seem a bit condescending to anyone over double digits in age, it’s still good advice for people who have never cooked before or who might not have heard of ingredients like fennel. Yeah I know, but it’s true.

The sounds of the kitchen are pretty realistic too. Everything sounds much like I was really cooking. You’ll crush garlic, chop herbs and veggies, sear steaks, bake potatoes and more, with all of it sounded like it’s real food in a real kitchen. I’m very pleased with this as yet again, these are little touches usually forgotten by these types of games. Again, I’m really impressed with Red Fly here, but they did give us last year’s Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars so I can’t say I’m too surprised here.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

Here’s where things start to turn south again. Where the sound and graphics were amongst the best I’ve seen in these realistic cooking simulations, the gameplay is barely passable with some very weird decisions that can outright ruin how you are performing in the game.

In a nutshell, you’ll use the Wiimote for nearly everything, such as cutting, flipping, crushing, dicing, serving and so on. The Numchuk is used to say you are ready to move on to the next part of the recipe. Flick it and you can go. You’ll use two buttons in the game. A is to select which part of the recipe you want to do next, which will be broken down into each major food stuff you’ll be working with. Z is used to speed time up if you don’t want to sit there and watch water boil for five minutes, which you will NOT. Trust me on this. All of this seems pretty easy except for one of those controls and that’s the numchuk flicking to move on to the next stage of the recipe. If you do this too early or too late, the game will punish you, as it should because you may be serving raw or burned foodstuffs. However, the sensitivity on this is over the top and there were times I was just sitting there or turned slightly to look at something else in the house and it registered me as say, taking pasta out of the boiling water ten minutes to early. It’s even worse when you are speeding up time as that involves pressing something on the Nunchuk and well, you can only guess what happens. You’ll come to hate this control design and I really wish they would have chosen a button rather than a very slight movement to register this.

Another problem comes with time management. Remember how I said you use the A button to mark what part of the recipe you want to move to next? Well, let’s say you are doing two or three things at once and have timed them to go off pretty close to each other. This is something you SHOULD do as it earns you time management points, but if these are too close together you’ll find that once the “time’s up” alarm sounds for you to move on to the next step (Yes, you want this alarm to happen), you have to then do the next step in the order the alarm’s went off, even if the first alarm is connected to a very long step and the other two are short one second joystick flicks. This is a pretty bad design flaw in the game, and it can really kill your score.

There are a few other control issues, but these involve the Wiimote. For example, let’s say you have to salt something. I can use the same amount of force on the Wiimote each time, and it will never give me the same exact result. I can slam the wiimote and it will barely register anything, and the reverse is equally true. This is pretty alarming and is just one more issue I have with the game and how it has some severe issues actually simulating cooking.

You’ll also quickly discover that controls have no real rhyme or reason. I can flail my Wiimote rapidly for much of the game and get a perfect score, even if it is out of synch with the controls on the screen, and then turn around and try to cover my pan in oil only to discover it wildly shifts from sluggish to hair trigger in terms of sensitivity.

Finally there are a few recipes that outright eschew cooking simulation entirely and have you play a very easy rhythm based game to earn points. The two most obvious with this issue are the grilled cheese sandwiches and lasagna recipes. What will happen is that parts of the recipe will come down and you need to shake either your Wiimote or your nunchuk when these pieces enter a white box on your screen. Okay then. Because making Lasagna is akin to playing DDR Hottest Party 3.

I appreciate Red Fly tried to simulate some aspects of cooking, such as using the Wiimote to simulate pouring or cutting, but at the end of the day, the sensitivity and responsiveness of the controls are so all over the place, that at times the game feels almost unplayable. I can’t tell you how many times I would flick the nunchuk when I needed to and the game didn’t recognize it or when I sat there trying to choose the next part of a recipe and again, it didn’t notice. The game would then turn around and count a slight shift in my arm as waggling the nunchuk and thus ruining my recipe. Simply put, this game has some great ideas, but it really needed some heavy fine tuning and quality control before hitting the market.

NOTE: I just took a look at the screenshots of this game from E3 and noticed they are completely different from the end product. Was the game scrapped and then a new one rushed or was it just a massive overhaul? Either way this explains a lot about the issues this title has.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor

5. Replayability

There are no real rewards for playing this. Whether you get a bronze or a gold medal, you still get to move on and unlock other recipes. Of course, with their only being twelve, it doesn’t really matter, because you’ll be solo mode in an afternoon without really trying. The other modes give a little more life to the game, but not much. Besides, it’s going to be a rare day when you have friends over and they choose Cook or Be Cooked as their multiplayer experience. “Oh, let’s bake bacon! I’ll kick your ASS!”

With such little content available in this game, all of which is repeated over the three available modes, it’s hard to recommend this as more than a rental. It’s certainly not worth full retail price.

Replayability Rating: Bad

6. Balance

Here’s an odd thing about the game. Although there were times I was purposely trying to screw up to get bad reactions for Susie and Morty, only once did I ever fail a recipe. Even at my worst, I got a bronze and was able to unlock something. That’s…kind of weird. You’re going to reward me for serving you raw beef that I salted so much you had to blow salt away to actually see the meat? Okay, then. When I was trying, it was all gold and silver medals across the board. Even stranger, I found that the difficulty rating the game had for each recipe to be a bit off. The recipes marked “hard” were actually the easiest in the game. Of course, this game isn’t really going to challenge anyone with the slightest experience in a kitchen. I mean, the hardest recipe in the whole game? The final recipe of doom? Penne and meatballs marinara. No, really. This is what Food Network: Cook or be Cooked seems to feel is going to test your mettle in the kitchen. Sigh.

In real life, these are some of the most basic recipes in all of cooking. Green Beans? Making Bacon? Grilling a hamburger? Making a tomato and herb salad? This game is pretty much “Down Syndrome Larry’s First Cooking Experience.” Of course all of these recipes come from the book, “How To Boil Water,” so I shouldn’t be surprised. It is however a bit of an insult considering the wide range of recipes you get in the other cooking games I’ve reviewed in the past. Not only do they run the cultural and difficulty gambit, but they were far more fun to play through. Cook or Be Cooked gives you one type of recipe: American Artery Clogging Crapfest That Anyone Could Do Even Without a Recipe.” The sole exception is the Lasagna, which is still a pretty easy recipe when you get down to it.

So even with the pretty big control issues that plague this game, you still have twelve recipes you can mostly flail through and come out a winner. This is pretty much not the case if you tried cooking these in real life and highlight yet another area where this game needed some severe tweaking. When a game is still fairly easy even with detection issues, there’s something odd here. It just has me wondering if it means the developers knew about the control issues and decided to balance it out this way or if it was just shoddy programming across the board.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality

It’s another cooking game for the Wii. I’ll grant you this is a fairly new genre that came about because of the Nintendo Wii, but there are realistic cooking games, Cooking Mama games, arcade cooking games like Hell’s Kitchen and more. Cook or Be Cooked does try to emulate a more realistic cooking environment while also giving it a more arcade style feel with a score system and rhythm mini-games. It doesn’t succeed, but I still admire the attempt.

I also liked they went with non celebrity chefs rather than say, Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri, as it gives the game a slightly different flavour. Did the game need the Food Network license? Not really, although considering how most third party games sell on the Wii, this will probably help it in the short term, even if the license eats some of the profit in the long term. Plus there will probably be plugging in various shows and during commercial time.

Although I can’t say the game is especially good or worth its current asking price, it does try to get as close to realistic cooking as I’ve seen in a cooking title yet, and that’s something. However, the very small market for cooking games is already crowded as is, as this will no doubt be lost in the shuffle.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

I beat the game in one sitting despite the flaws I’ve talked about. Part of that is due to the ease of the game and the other part is how shallow it is. Still, I can’t deny I was amused by this title. The visuals helped to make this feel like it was actually cooking, while the controls were hit or miss. The commentary alternated between amusing and annoying, but all of these came together to make a game that was surprisingly fun despite its control issues, its extreme easiness and very limited replay value. I liked it far more than I ever expected I would like a title with the current Food Network branding or with the weak sauce recipes the game contains. I know I’ll never play it again, nor would I want to, but for a one day diversion it wasn’t bad, even if it wasn’t worth the purchase price.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

9. Appeal Factor

As we’ve seen, cooking games haven’t been all that successful, even Nintendo’s “Non-game,” Personal Training: Cooking wasn’t that successful and it was pretty heavily pushed with ads and even its own DS bundle. Still Food Network is a pretty big brand and even without any celebrity chefs behind this, it’s slightly less than full price might tempt a few casual gamers into picking it up, only to be a bit miffed when they learn there are only 12 recipes in the game, a far cry from the “30+” promised on the box.

To be honest, it’s probably more fun (and cheaper) to cook these things yourself or to buy a game that teaches you recipes that aren’t extremely basic and obvious from the get-go. You might find that a better way to spend time and money. Maybe when this drops to $19.99 or less, it’ll find an audience, but for now, it’s foodies with Wii’s only.

Appeal Factor: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

I’m still really ticked the game’s package outright lies about the depth of the game, but I blame that on Namco Bandai’s marketing rather than Red Fly. I’m also annoyed that even at $39.99 (compared to $49.99), there’s just not enough to this title to make it worth a purchase. It might be a fun rental, but it’s just too shallow to be considered a keeper or must-buy by anyone. Factor in the control issues and it’s a game that could have used some more seasoning. Hmm, is this a good cooking pun? Maybe I should have said, “It should have been left in the oven a little longer.”

One last note, the real world recipes for everything you make in the game are in the manual. None of them are very hard or impressive, and almost all of them are instinctual that only the lazy or new to cooking would need. I guess if that’s the target market Food Network is aiming for these days, I’m glad I haven’t been tuning in for years.

Miscellaneous Rating: Bad

The Scores
Modes: Bad
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Poor
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked is the latest in a long line of cooking related simulations. Although visually the game is the best cooking game out there, and you can actually see food cooking, the controls are rather spotty and the game is so easy you just may beat it even when you’re purposely trying to poison Susie Fogelson and Morty Thomas. Worst of all, the game only contains twelve recipes, a far cry from the “30+” promised on the box, mean you’ll beat this game in under five hours. Even if that doesn’t bother you, this is a game whose recipes include grilling hamburgers, boiling green beans or asparagus in water, or frying bacon on a skillet. This is more cooking on the Today Show or Public Access than what you would want to see with the Food Network branding. If this is how far the network has fallen since losing quality chefs like Emeril or Ming Tsai, then you’re better off keeping both this game and the Network from showing on your TV screen.

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