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Cooking Mama 3 review: Cooking Mama 3

The Cooking Mama games were a bit of a surprise. Who'da thunk a cutesy, cartoony series of games about making crullers and tea would prove so addicting? Unlike many other cooking games on the market, Cooking Mama 3 doesn't offer real recipes or teach you to cook them, but there is a lot, after all, to be said for fun for its own sake.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
5 min read

The Cooking Mama games were a bit of a surprise. Who'da thunk a cutesy, cartoony series of games about making crullers and tea would prove so addicting? Unlike many other cooking games on the market, Cooking Mama 3 doesn't offer real recipes or teach you to cook them, but there is a lot, after all, to be said for fun for its own sake.


Cooking Mama 3

The Good

Fun cooking modes and lots of them Easy to pick up and play New elements for fans.

The Bad

Frustrating new 'Shopping' mode Soundtrack is highly grating Gameplay maybe not different enough from previous titles in the series.

The Bottom Line

A mostly fun little cooking puzzle game that offers a few new things to old fans and a great introduction to newcomers to the franchise.

Like its predecessors, Cooking Mama 3's core gameplay is simple: complete the steps of the recipe as quickly and neatly as you can; though this latest incarnation adds a few more cooking steps all round. Your score is calculated at the end based on how well you performed each of the steps. They're mostly pretty easy — stirring, chopping, weighing — but some of the tasks are a little more difficult, particularly when the instructions aren't adequately explained. For instance, we watched the timer ticking down in a state of frustration while poking at an unresponsive screen, unaware that the blue wind icon on meant we had to blow into the microphone to 'cool' the food.

Once you figure it out, though — and the repertoire of steps is not enormous, repeating in different orders across multiple recipes — you'll be able to get the scores pretty much down pat, the only hindrance to perfect 100 scores every time being the occasionally obstreperous touch controls, and the 'Practice' mode within the Cook With Mama mode allows you to sneak-preview the steps in any order before taking on the actual recipe. Not, we should add, that that's necessary — you're not penalised for stuffing up a recipe, and you can retry it as many times as you want, so in the end the 'Practice' mode seems like an odd inclusion. Especially when you consider that, for the first time in the franchise, Cooking Mama 3 does allow you to bounce back from your mistakes by cleaning up the mess and moving on.

First prize at the cooking fair

The warm glow of a job well done isn't the only reward for performing well. The better you make the dishes, the more unlockable content you'll have access to, and there is rather a lot of it. You can unlock new outfits and accessories in which to dress Mama in the Let's Get Fancy mode, kitchen decor and tools with which to gussy up your cooking space in the Change Design mode, and stickers with which to decorate the happy snaps of your culinary masterpieces in the Write in Diary mode.

In addition, you can also unlock new 'friends' in the Practice-free Let's Cook mode, wherein you'll put your skills to the test by cooking and serving up your dishes to a bunch of virtual characters; if they like your food, they'll recommend you to their (virtual) friends, who will then appear also clamouring for a feed. But they'll give you content too, so they're not complete freeloaders.

All in all, there's really not much difference between the first four modes. The gameplay is just packaged slightly differently, and that's okay: the first is straight-up cooking, the second is cooking for mates, the third is throwing ingredients together to see what you come up with, and the fourth is the cooking contest, with either single player or multiplayer. If you're going to get sick of the gameplay, an extra mode or two isn't going to make much difference; and if you're not, well, the extra modes are welcome.

Shopping shocker

The real bummer in the gameplay is the Let's Shop mode. This is a new addition to the Cooking Mama franchise, and it's ... well, awful is probably the best way to put it. The idea is to run around the supermarket collecting the ingredients Mama needs to make her hellish witch's brews (there's something a little bit sinister about Mama, but more on that later). Unlike a real supermarket, though (and we don't know why we were thinking it might be, but let's just go with this here), other people don't organically move around when you're approaching. They stand there like vegetables or resolutely walk right into your path like buses, then have the gall to whinge and shout when you bump into them or they bump into you and they drop their stuff or their baby starts crying.

Cue another minigame, in which you must fix the other person's problem (which was their own fault, the tantrum-throwing self-entitled eejits). Two things are hindering you though: your supermarket visit is on the clock, which means you have a limited amount of time before, we assume, Mama drives off in her SUV, leaving you stranded with the vegetable-buses and you fail at buying an apple; and you are only allowed a limited number of collisions before you fail as well (we assume supermarket staff throw you out of the store for causing a ruckus).

In fact, feel free to skip the supermarket entirely: it only offers the same rewards you can get in other parts of the game. If you want them that badly, play the fun bits again.

The multiplayer makes up for it a bit: you can pit yourselves against up to four friends in a battle to the death (not really) by seeing who can output the most food in the time limit. Playing alone doesn't really provide much of a challenge, but playing against real live people with real live smarts and intuition will put your reflexes to the test.

Design-wise, Cooking Mama 3 is pretty much like all the other Cooking Mama games: cutesy, with the seemingly benevolent Mama smiling and overseeing the proceedings. Actually, she's sort of terrifying, more like the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel, her facade only slipping when you stuff up, revealing flaming pits where her eyes should be. "It okay," says the voice over. "Mama will help you." Coupled with the irritating music-torture-like soundtrack, which you need to turn on at least sometimes due to sound-based cues in some of the recipes, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mama is a particularly malicious figure hell-bent on tormenting you.

Frustrating supermarket and Mama's dubious motives aside, though, Cooking Mama 3 offers a few new elements for fans of the franchise, and is a great introduction for newcomers.