The Cooking Mama games surprised just about everyone when they came out, much in the same way Katamari Damacy did when it released. A cooking game, really? “We cook that every day,” went the logic. “That’s like asking me to clean a virtual house and fold virtual laundry. How could that be fun?” Well, Cooking Mama is now a multimillion-dollar franchise, and there’s a new game trying to capture some of its (super)market.
Called Order Up!, this new Wii-exclusive game not only captures some of Cooking Mama’s glory, but turns up the heat by incorporating honest-to-goodness patron personalities for your digital customers. Yes, you’ll still find yourself chopping vegetables and frying chicken, which are normally mundane activities, but the fact that even my wife, who prepares most of our meals, wanted to do nothing more than play Order Up! Every night for a week straight tells you something about just how fun this “me too” game really is.
In Order Up!, players progress through their cooking career from a dirty diner in the early stages to a Mexican restaurant and a high-end Italian restaurant. These advanced restaurants naturally lead to higher-end food, which in turn ups the cooking-complexity ante. By earning coin (yes, singular “coin”), players can upgrade their equipment (food processor, chef’s knife, stove top, etc.), hire assistants who bring varying talents to the table, buy new recipes and, lat but certainly not least, buy new spices. This last option sounds simple; after all, why wouldn’t you want to include spice? But it’s these spices that really push Order Up! into the upper echelon of cooking games, because in order to please your individual patrons and earn the maximum tip, you have to pay attention to the spices they prefer and individualize your recipes accordingly.
The individualism of each patron adds a level of intrigue to Order Up! that frankly is missing in Cooking Mama. Not only do you have to time your orders correctly to keep your food from getting cold, but you have to manage your staff while also researching whether the patron likes gravy, black pepper, salt, onions, brown sugar, peppers, etc. Deliver a killer meal, and the patron will reward you with extra coin, which in turn builds up your reserves faster and enables you to purchase the more-advanced restaurants, recipes and spices sooner than you’d otherwise be able to.
As you purchase these new restaurants, the gameplay starts to open up and become even more fun, because you’re not just frying chicken, but making manicotti and wrapping burritos. After playing for a few days, the game does start to feel repetitive, even with the inclusion of spices, but let’s be honest here: how many people (other than my wife) are going to obsess for days about achieving “Perfect!” when grating cheese? It’s important to note, however, that while the game gets repetitive, it never gets boring. There’s a big difference between the two: repetitive still enables fast action and the need for timing your food-prep, it just feels like you’re doing the same thing over and over. Boring, however, means the gameplay itself isn’t fun, which is definitely not the case.
In fact, the gameplay can get so frantic (read: not boring) at times that you’ll not only want to assign certain duties to your hired chefs, but actually need to do so if you want all four people at a given table to eat in a timely manner. This chef management introduces an odd sort of resource management, because not only do you assign them duties based on their strengths, but you ultimately decide whom to hire and whether you want to replace them. Heck, you can even decide whether you’re a good enough chef to can one of your hired kitchen hands and instead “buy” an entertainer.
The biggest downfall with Order Up! isn’t the graphics, which are very Wii-appropriate yet fresh, nor is it the audio, which is minimalistic but achieves what needs to be achieved. Nope, it’s actually something much more mundane than that: the number of prompts. Even the stupidest activity, like entering the restaurant or showing you a graphic that “hey, you completed this meal” gets incredibly annoying, and there’s no way to skip past them. Truly, if the static outside-the-restaurant scene has just loaded, why does the game need to bother verifying whether I really do what to go into the restaurant — before hitting me with another loading delay?
In addition to the cooking activities, Order Up! includes a smattering of mini-games, such as the need to occasionally shake your Wii Remote to wake up dozing assistants and scrubbing dirt from the dishes when the Health Inspector makes a surprise visit. But these activities are really sporadic; cooking provides the core gameplay of Order Up!, and it provides it very well. Cooking Mama seemed like an insurmountable franchise at one time, but Order Up! has — at least to this editor — added just the right amount of gameplay spice to surpass the competition. Look out, Mama, there’s a hot new chef in town, and he’s got a whole restaurant full of happy patrons.
Buy Order Up! at Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.3
— Jonas Allen