With the bizarre (and seemingly disproven) allegations that Cooking Mama: Cookstar is a trojan horse for cryptocurrency mining on your Switch, it doesn’t help that Cookstar feels so suspiciously under-developed that it’s easy to believe it might have an ulterior motive. Have you ever walked past a store that didn’t seem like a plausible business and wondered if it might be a front for something illegal? Cooking Mama: Cookstar feels a lot like that. Whether it’s the asinine and tiresome minigames, the cringe-worthy voice acting, or the unforgivable motion controls, Cookstar warrants an investigation into what exactly went wrong.
There’s quite a bit to do in Cooking Mama: Cookstar, though very little of it is actually enjoyable. The two main modes are “Traditional Recipes” and “Vegetarian Recipes,” which are pretty standard fare for the Cooking Mama series. You play a sequence of simple and repetitive minigames that have you cook food, then plate and take a photo of your creation, which you can post on social media if you need to send your family and friends an obvious cry for help. There are over 80 recipes which account for 20+ hours of time you’ll need to spend in your virtual kitchen, though much of them require you to do the same steps over and over again, like cracking eggs and mixing ingredients. To its credit, each recipe is incredibly detailed and Cookstar does an admirable job of making me feel like I’m actually learning how to cook some of these recipes, which is by far the most rewarding part of Cookstar.
Cooking Mama: Cookstar Screenshots
In the unenviable event that you’re playing Cooking Mama: Cookstar with a friend, the Potluck Party mode offers 10 cooperative and competitive minigames with riveting activities like seeing who can chop the most potatoes or who can clean the most dirty dishes. That’s right: Finally, Cookstar brings all of the excitement of competitive tedious chores to the Nintendo Switch, all without the actual productivity – and not a moment too soon! There are a few mildly amusing modes, like where one player controls a clove of garlic and the other tries to smash him with a mallet, and one where both players apply condiments to a burger and try to avoid one another’s trail that’s reminiscent of Tron’s Light Cycles. These modes are barebones, though, and feel so completely superficial that they become stale in seconds.
While cooking recipes in single-player you’ll be playing a lot of less interesting minigames, which are largely either overly simplistic and mind-numbingly dull or incredibly frustrating due to poor motion controls and irritating design. Most amount to simple quick-time events where you press a button or wave a Joy-Con repeatedly until you’ve poured some liquid or chopped an onion. After the first few times you’ve played these, you’re probably pretty bored – but it keeps going, and going, and going anyway. But the frustrating minigames are even worse.
While in docked mode, most minigames use motion controls, which is fine if you’re just cutting vegetables. But once you get into more delicate tasks like Cookstar’s rage-inducing cheese-grating minigame you’ll experience the ugly side of inaccurate motion controls. I’d move my arm to pour some ingredients into a bowl and the Joy-Con simply wouldn’t register anything. Then I’d become frustrated and panicked as the constantly ticking clock warns that I’m nearing failure, so I’d desperately swing the Joy-Con around only for Mama to tell me that I’m moving too fast and the ingredients would spill everywhere.
Other minigames are just poorly designed, like the dough-kneading minigame, which has you follow prompts that pop up so slowly sometimes you fail due to arbitrary timing. Failing challenging tasks is one thing, but failing easy and tedious ones because you’re apparently jiggling your Joy-Con too fast is truly madenning. Luckily you can simply play in handheld mode or turn motion controls off, which makes things much less frustrating but also greatly increases the level of monotony as cooking becomes strictly a matter of quick-time events.
Of course, success or failure hardly matters in Cookstar anyway. Simply completing recipes at any level of success grants cosmetics and unlocks the next recipe with no real incentive for doing so well. You can practice recipes in a dedicated practice mode, cook meals by following prompts in the “Cook It!” mode, or play the “Cookstar” mode where you play chef without the guidance of prompts, but each mode plays identically and doesn’t really lead to anything beyond unlocking the next recipe.
There just aren’t any kind of stakes in Cookstar. As an experiment I tried my best to intentionally botch a recipe to see if I could create the grossest food ever, but literally nothing I did changed the outcome. When making a grilled cheese sandwich, I botched slicing bread, refused to grate or apply cheese, and burned the sandwich to a crisp. When the cooking was done and it was time to take photos of my food it looked the same it would have if I’d succeeded at any step in the process. If my failure or success were actually reflected in the final product that alone would have done wonders to improve my investment in doing each recipe well; seeing that nothing I did mattered anyway just made it feel all the more pointless.
As you chop, grill, and steam your way through Cookstar’s various recipes, your ears will be tormented by some of the poorest voice acting in recent video game history. The self-proclaimed “mama” of Cooking Mama fame relentlessly repeats the same haunting lines without reprieve. If you’re doing something well she’ll egg you on, and if you’re doing something poorly she’ll whine and complain. If you’re going too fast she’ll tell you to slow down, and if you’re going too slowly she’ll tell you to hurry up. If you’re doing nothing at all, she’ll scream at you to say she’s getting hungry. It’s easily one of the worst parts of Cookstar and, after a long day of playing, I went to bed with her nagging voice in my head, afflicting my dreams. It goes without saying that the mute button is your friend.
On top of all of that, one of Cooking Mama: Cookstar’s biggest failings is that it tries almost nothing new. Cooking Mama (2006) had the benefit of being an adorable showcase for the Nintendo DS’ touchscreen, but rather than doing something special on the Switch it simply recreates its predecessors with better graphics, more complicated recipes, and terrible motion controls instead of using the stylus. And when I say that it doesn’t try new things, I mean that quite literally. A side-by-side comparison of recipes from previous Cooking Mama games will show just how little things have changed, and that’s a major problem if you’re revisiting the series 14 years later (as I did) because it’s already stale the moment you start playing.