America’s Test Kitchen: Let’s Get Cooking
Developer: Indies Zero
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Release Date: 03/28/2010
Nintendo’s systems have certainly become a great place for cooking related titles. Although the Wii has seen games like Hell’s Kitchen or Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked, The DS has been the chef’s system of choice with high quality products like My Healthy Cooking Coach, Personal Trainer: Cooking, and Gourmet Chef. Of course it’s also been host to crappy products like What’s Cooking: Jaime Oliver, but then they can’t all be winners.
As a guy that cooks a lot, I’ve become a big fan of these digital cookbooks, if only for the amount of space they save me. I mean, a 300 recipe cookbook would take up a big chunk of a bookshelf, but a DS cart with the same recipes? Not so much. Even better, this time Indies Zero, creators of the title that started this all, Personal Trainer: Cooking has teamed up with America’s Test Kitchen. For those of you who aren’t sure what ATK is, well here is a brief summary. America’s Test Kitchen is the most watched cooking TV show on Public Television and it uses the staff and recipes of Cooks Illustrated Magazine. It’s head and shoulders above anything currently shown on the horrible Food Network right now, so check it out!
Now for the most part, ATK is just Personal Trainer: Cooking with some new recipes along with some innovations and changes. At $19.99, it’s a fraction of what most paper cookbooks cost, but is it worth getting if you have one (or both) of the other two digital cookbooks for the DS?
As America’s Test Kitchen is a cookbook, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that it consists of 300 recipes. You can search through all the recipes based on ingredients, alphabetical order, cooking equipment and utensils, or even exclude recipes based on ingredients. As I am unable to eat gourds, the ability to nix squash and zucchini recipes is a nice little touch.
The game’s new features include the ability to make a group profile so that multiple people can work on a recipe at once with the game assigning duties to each cook, along with calling out their name to remind them of their tasks. This is a great touch, especially as you can note if someone is old enough to be trusted with heat and knives. You also have the ability to mark a recipe as “Try It!” which will add it to a collection of recipes you haven’t cooked yet but want to. The game also has special holiday meal suggestions for things like Easter, the 4th of July, Hallowe’en and more. I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the pairings in the holiday meals, but it’s nice that they offer suggestions like these. The game also has handwriting recognition, ala the old tablets from the late 1990’s. Even my doctor quality handwriting was read just fine by the game. Finally, the other new feature is the ability to send recipes to other DS’, even if they don’t have a copy of ATK. This is great as it not only allows multiple recipes to be made at once using the same cartridge, but it also lets you send a sample of what ATK is like to friends to see if this is a product they would want to purchase for themselves. How cool is that?
The game also includes Personal Trainer: Cooking standbys like the ability to make a shopping list of ingredients to take with you to the local supermarket, a notepad to remind yourself of certain things, a kitchen time, the ability to search through the recipes by skill level, specific ingredient, calories, time to make the dish and what type of meal you want (breakfast, lunch, etc.) and more. To be perfectly honest, the only thing this is missing is My Healthy Cooking Coach‘s personal customization aspect so that it gives you a daily recipe based on what foods you prefer to eat and what you don’t. If America’s Test Kitchen had that it would be perfect. There are even sixteen instructional videos ranging from deveining shrimp to basic knife skills. This is simply an awesome product from beginning to end.
Modes Rating: Classic
There aren’t a lot of graphics to this game. There are static real life images of ingredients and cooking equipment, along with pictures showing the recipe being made at each step, but this is primarily a text based title where you’ll be reading the words on the screen or listening to the virtual chef/narrator. Where the game really stands out is with the sixteen instructional videos. Let’s take the mincing parsley one as an example. The video is hosted by an actual chef from ATK who walks you through various types of parsley and then gives you video footage showing every step of the washing and cutting with PSP UMD quality video. That’s impressive and after watching all sixteen videos along with the sheer size of the cookbook, I’m left wondering how Nintendo is making any money off this since it’s only $19.99.
The background graphics are about what you would expect from a virtual cookbook. They’re forgettable, but easy on the eyes and they don’t distract from the cookbook itself. The writing font is nice and easily readable even from some distance away from the DS, and any button or clickable object is easily noticeable. You can even unlock the old Game and Watch title Egg by using the built in timer and it looked surprisingly good.
So there’s not a lot of graphics per say, but the static images do what they need to and the video footage is easily the best I’ve ever seen on the DS. As game, this would suck, but as a virtual cookbook, this is exactly what anyone would want.
Graphics Rating: Good
There’s not a lot of sound to review here. You have the background music, which is soothing and laid back. It’s good as white noise and it is neither distracting nor does it overpower the actual virtual chef’s voice.
Speaking of the Virtual Chef, it’s a male voice once again and it’s very well done. You can adjust the rate of speech to as fast or slow as you need and each word is enunciated clearly and strongly. You can understand what he is saying, even if you’re in a different room. The cooks in the instructional videos also speak clearly and they speak in plain English, making their tips and advice easily accessible to all.
Much like the graphics, there’s not a lot of variety or a killer soundtrack like you’d find in a video game, but as a virtual cookbook, you can hear everything perfectly and the virtual chef is easy to understand and follow, even when your hands are covered in foodstuff.
Sound Rating: Good
4. Control and Gameplay
The touch pad controls work exceptionally well as each button can be seen easily and there is never any sort of issue with the stylus detection. Just click on whatever you want in the index or when going through a recipe and you’ll be fine.
Much like Personal Trainer: Cooking, America’s Test Kitchen‘s key feature is the voice recognition software. I’m happy to say this is improved from the original cookbook title as you don’t have to be facing the DS when you say “Continue,” “Repeat,” “More instructions,” or “Last Step” to advance the steps. You can actually be somewhat quiet as well so you don’t look like a lunatic when you use America’s Test Kitchen when cooking for friends.
The wireless recipe sending feature works brilliantly and you can even send it to multiple friends at once so you can have a cooking contest if you really wanted to.
America’s Test Kitchen: Let’s Get Cooking is a definite improvement over the original Personal Trainer: Cooking in terms of voice recognition and ease of navigating through the cookbook. The new features were things I never even would have thought of including and yet they are so awesome I can’t wait to see what changes will be made to the 2011 or 12 edition.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled
America’s Test Kitchen contains 50 more recipes that Personal Trainer: Cooking and there is very little overlap. Even when they do have the same basic recipe, they are different enough that the end result will taste differently and perhaps even be cooked differently as well. ATK is missing the International flare that PT:C had, but I actually prefer the recipes here as they are more practical and appealing to a wider array of tastes. I mean, I primarily cook French and Japanese, but PT:C had some odd choices for what was meant to be a casual gamer’s first virtual cookbook. America’s Test Kitchen however is definitely better suited for that job.
If you made one recipe in this game a day, you’d be able to fill up nearly an entire year of cooking with just this one game. You can also do the full meal suggestions on special holidays or watch the videos even if you’re not making a recipe from the cartridge itself. This is another definite improvement from the original Personal Trainer: Cooking, both in terms of recipes you’ll come back to and implementation.
Replayability Rating: Very Good
America’s Test Kitchen is not only better balanced that Personal Trainer: Cooking in terms of multi-chef useage, but also in terms of recipe selection. With PT:C, over a third of the recipes were Italian, Chinese or French. Now that’s all well and good if you are me and you like food from all different cultures. But what if you’re say, lactose intolerant. That kind of kills nearly all the French and Italian recipes. Don’t even get me started on if you have a gluten allergy. America’s Test Kitchen definitely has more diverse recipes, even if the bulk are “Western” ones. That doesn’t mean food from other cultures aren’t here. There are a lot of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and European recipes. For example, the hummus recipe is actually quite good, but I did had a few chipotle peppers into the final product to give it more of a bite.
This is a very nicely done cookbook and it’s easily the most balanced one yet in terms of variety, difficulty of recipes, and ingredients.
Balance Rating: Very Good
This is the third full out cookbook for the Nintendo DS, but many cooking themed games like Gourmet Chef and Hell’s Kitchen have contained recipes guides as bonus features. However America’s Test Kitchen really stands out due to the new features like being able to send recipes to friends without the game as either a sample or so that you can cook multiple dishes at once. There’s also the ability for the game to recognize multiple cooks making a single recipe with the same DS and the ability to divide a recipe up amongst cooks based on their skill level. All this for $19.99!
Now this doesn’t change the fact that the core game is all but a clone of the original Personal Trainer: Cooking in every way, but the new additions to the engine are great ideas that you’ll really get a lot of usage out of.
Originality Rating: Decent
This might be the one weak spot of the game simply, because it’s not meant to suck you in and keep you playing for hours like a video game. It’s a cookbook after all. You make a recipe, then you turn it off. However, in my PT:C review I said, As much as I’d like to say people will still be using this in a few months or that the title will live up to the hype it’s been getting, the truth is that this will be just a fad for gourmands, gourmets, foodies, and their friends to pick up, have fun with and then discard as the next food fad comes up. Well, PT:C has been out for a year and a half now and people are still using it. It even ended up as a DS pack-in and My Healthy Cooking Coach did pretty well too. Now are people still using them? I know I only use my sporadically at best and I LOVE to cook.
America’s Test Kitchen does have that particular brand’s seal of approval and the high quality associated with that show and its sister publication will no doubt help sell this virtual cookbook, but will it be used regularly? That is where I have serious doubts. I have a feeling this will be a novelty.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
9. Appeal Factor
Personal Trainer: Cooking sold extremely well and I have no doubt America’s Test Kitchen will too. It’s got budget pricing, a respected cooking show endorsing it and some great new innovations and recipes that anyone and everyone can make and enjoy. It’s easily the best virtual cookbook out there and if you own a DS and you eat in more than you eat out, this should be a no-brainer as to whether you should pick it up or not. This little thing can be your first step in reducing your caloric intake, improving your eating habits and getting healthy. The price is right too, as it’s not like you’re paying $60 for an Xbox 360 or PS3 title that might play like crap. No, you’re getting a well made cookbook that is designed for gamers and people who are new or casual cooks alike. Unless you outright live off TV dinners or fast food, or you just don’t own a DS, you will absolutely love this and consider it one of the gems in your DS collection. Honestly, my DS collection at this point is primarily virtual cookbooks, Pokemon games, Bust-A-Move titles, and the My Coach language learning titles. Don’t be surprised if in picking this up, you end up hunting down the other two cookbooks for the DS as well.
Appeal Factor: Very Good
It’s $19.99. It contains 300 recipes. It’s one of the most sophisticated titles out for the DS even if it’s not an actual video game, and it’s an amazing way to learn to cook, no matter what your skill level is in the kitchen. As someone who has been a long time writer about both food and video games, this my friends, is as close to a perfect fusion between the two subjects as we have ever seen, and may possible ever get. What more do you need me to say? BUY THIS.
Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
For $19.99, you’re getting an electronic cookbook with more recipes that you generally find in a fifty dollar one, and better ones to boot as they’re all directly from the PBS program that gives this DS cartridge its name. America’s Test Kitchen: Let’s Get Cooking manages to surpass both Personal Trainer: Cooking and My Healthy Cooking Coach as the best virtual cookbook available and it also features some of the best video footage ever released on the DS. New additions to the franchise include the ability to send full recipes to other DS’ via wi-fi connection, even if your friends don’t have the cart and the ability for the “game” to recognize multiple chefs making the recipe together and to assign specific tasks to each. America’s Test Kitchen is easily one of the best titles available for the DS to date, even if it isn’t an actual video game. Whether you’ve mentored under some like Ming Tsai or you’ve eaten microwaveable dinners all your life, you should really invest in a copy of this and see how much fun cooking can be.