Looks like Atari came a little late to the Cooking Mama cash-in party. Stuff like Cooking Academy and Happy Cooking Coach is hitting shelves a whole month sooner than What's Cooking? With Jamie Oliver. But at least the game will be in good company - Iron Chef for DS and Wii ships the same day.
When I sat down for some hands-on with with What's Cooking, I looked for what set the game apart - expecting some tiny add-on feature or celebrity voiceover. Well, the celebrity voiceover was definitely there (although I'm pretty sure most gamers have no idea who Jamie Oliver is), but I also found a whole lot more going on than just Cooking Mama clonery.
The big deal for me is the Cookbook. I'm a fan of this automatically because I like cooking (insert sexist joke here), and here at last is the game that makes it easy for me to play my DS and cook at the same time. The Cookbook feature has like 100 recipes from Jamie Oliver's list of favourites - from fancy stuff like shrimp scampi to a basic spaghetti and red sauce - and as you work your way through the game, you can actually add your own recipes to the Cookbook for reference, even listing ingredients the game doesn't come with. Once in the Cookbook, you select a dish and view a recipe list (which you can edit - if, say, you prefer sirloin in your stew to flank steak), and then get step-by-step instructions onscreen (with voice control scrolling, so you don't have to put down your garlic press) on how to actually make the dish and serve it so it looks pretty. Like in real life. For you to eat. *Gasp!*
With the "game" mode comes the Cooking Mama rip off - there's still all that stylus tapping tactics, and measuring of ingredients to go through and you can screw up and be forced to start over. But even here, there's a level of realism that makes What's Cooking feel completely different. The kitchen, for one thing, is huge and fully stocked. Spice rack, sink, range burners - you name, this kitchen has it. And it's all in 3D, so no lurid cartoon tomatoes or sparkly-eyed anime wench staring at you from the upper screen.
The only real drag is that voiceover. It's not that I have anything against Jamie Oliver's English drawl, so much as I hate being chided over and over again when I burn something. Like I can't freaking tell from all the smoke.
What's Cooking? With Jamie Oliver is out this October.
Left: Look at that smug mug - don't you just want to punch him?