Sunday , February 25 2024
Players get plenty of guidance, but are allowed plenty of creative freedom that doesn’t stifle the fun.

Nintendo DS Review: Imagine: Master Chef

This translated version of last year's Edamoto Nahomi no Shiawase Kitchen is part of the new Imagine game series. It’s a cooking simulation experience aimed for younger audiences, but the food preparation techniques and recipes can interest all ages. Players get plenty of guidance, but are allowed plenty of creative freedom that doesn’t stifle the fun.

Role playing elements expand when your main character, Lisa, ventures outside the house and interacts with more people and acquires bonus materials, recipes, etc. The theme also includes some supernatural elements to compromise Lisa’s supporting pals, namely her group of stuffed animals including Hopper the bunny and Choco the dog. They keep her company as her mom occasionally appears as Lisa works towards her goal of cooking a meal for her father when he returns from a business trip.

The cooking mechanics work well, but there should’ve been more content. The preparation techniques use the Nintendo DS’s touch capabilities very well. Rapidly running the stylus across onions to cut them up; stirring up pancake batches and turning over omelets include some of the fun activities. Cut carrots by quickly tapping on the touch screen. Mixing up cake batter becomes guiding the stylus in a circular motion. Flipping flapjacks is a quick push forward, and so on and so forth. It's pretty simple stuff and the sounds and colorful graphics really enhance the experience.

Chef Rachel Jones (a.k.a. Japanese television chef Nahomi Edamoto) guides Lisa through three stages of cooking: food preparation, the actual cooking and finally applying the finishing touches – garnishes. There’s three dishes to make in each cooking lesson: soup/drink, side (e.g. rice) and the main course. The game doesn’t put many limits on creativity, especially in the freestyle mode (same setup sans all the conversation).

Players can choose to not follow Rachel’s directions (and watch her sweat) and get penalized with fewer points. Points awarded for a finished meal is depend on how well you cook, the overall taste (easy on the pepper and salt) and aesthetics of the garnishes. You’ll get higher score by obeying instructions. The only wild card is the garnish mode, which seems to have several possible scenarios. If you want a safe bet, pay attention to the garnishes when the lesson begins. Players aware of cultural food differences between the U.S. and Japan will also have a slight advantage.

Older players quickly flip through the dialogue to get to the cooking part, which could’ve been beefed up more. Producers create a good variety of mini-games (e.g. memory, darts, puzzles, etc.) among the dialogue and cooking, plus plenty of social outings in Lisa’s hometown Happy Town where she meets some human characters – her classmates.

Two issues taint the culinary experience. First, lessons just get repeated in the freestyle mode – there’s no way to exit, and second, the kitchen timer is a great idea, but having your NIntendo DS near a real stove/oven probably isn’t, especially for the kids. Otherwise, this decent game sustains a great, well-guided experience though the replay value doesn’t go beyond the stored recipes (archived in three notebooks) and repeating lessons once you’ve conquered the game in about 11 or 12 hours (ideal for younger players). This simulation has cute characters, useful recipes and high learning potential. The best of the current Imagine series games.

Master Chef is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.

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