I played the first Cooking Mama title when it released for the Nintendo DS back in 2006 out of pure curiosity. I had a surprisingly enjoyable time with the game, but my overall lack of interest in the genre kept me from following the series too closely. This is why I was surprised to find out that a new title, Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop was releasing this year for the Nintendo 3DS. Three years after the game’s Japanese debut, the newest Cooking Mama game has made its way to America and Europe and while Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop adds a few new features, not much has changed since then.
In Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop, players will run their own store where they can put the dishes they create on display. With the creation of different foods, the shop will expand in size, adding additional recipes. Players can then put those products on display and watch as customers browse the store, buying the desserts for in-game currency. This currency can be used to purchase interior design items for your store or different accessories for Tomoko, the series’ mascot who guides you through each recipe.
Most of your time spent in Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop will be spent following recipes to create desserts. This is done by participating in a number of primarily touch-based mini-games that simulate each step of the cooking process. Fans of the series will know exactly what to expect here. Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop includes 60 different recipes with over 160 mini-games. I didn’t find any of these mini-games to be challenging at all. The only way to fail in most cases is by running out of time which is tracked by a clock in the upper-right corner of the top screen. Very few of the mini-games allowed failure through making mistakes. Aside from one of the games that only offer one try, the only way I managed to fail was when I waited out the timer. This didn’t matter much since failure has very little weight to it in the long run. You’re awarded a bronze medal and pushed onto the next step regardless of how many you mess up on or even if you choose to do nothing. Though you’re given a low rating and burnt looking medal, the finished product still comes out looking perfect. I hoped that you would be able to visually see your mistakes in some form or in the case where I didn’t touch the game for the entire process, presented an empty tray. Even with the lowest score, you can still display your dessert in the shop where it can be sold for seemingly full value. The only real punishment is hearing Tomoko’s disappointment as she tries to encourage you for next time.
This didn’t matter much since failure has very little weight to it in the long run. You’re awarded a bronze medal and pushed onto the next step regardless of how many you mess up or even if you choose to do nothing. Though you’re given a low rating and burnt looking medal, the finished product still comes out looking perfect. I hoped that you would be able to visually see your mistakes in some form or in the case where I didn’t touch the game for the entire process, presented an empty tray. Even with the lowest score, you can still display your dessert in the shop where it can be sold for seemingly full value. The only real punishment is hearing Tomoko’s disappointment as she tries to encourage you for next time.
Aside from crafting your own desserts, running the shop is the main thing you’ll be doing in Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop. The unfortunate thing about that is that it’s the most boring part of the game without question. After making your first dessert, you can place it anywhere on display. After that, you can visit the store and watch as the customers show up. That’s pretty much it. You watch the small characters dawdle around until they’re ready to buy something and then you tap the object they’re holding to wrap it up for them and receive payment. What’s worse, waiting through this is the only way to make any money in the game. It’s a major time sink, and not even remotely fun. Even calling this gameplay shallow feels like it’s giving the feature too much credit. To compare, I took a look at Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appétit, the previous entry in the series that released in 2014. In that game, Tomoko ran her own shop which the player could help run. This was done through its own mini-games where players would help with things like serving food or cleaning up. It would have made a lot more sense if elements like these appeared in Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop now that the store is yours. The money earned from the store can be used to buy decorations for the store’s interior along with the kitchen you cook in and other decorative items. These are all purely cosmetic though, so unless you’re really bothered by the kitchen counter’s colours, you don’t have to bother sitting around, waiting to earn virtual cash.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try out the “World Challenge” mode so I can’t comment on how it works. The game’s multiplayer isn’t all that different from the solo play. Players can compete to create the best dish, playing the same mini-games found in single player. The game also features download play so only one player is required to own it.
While I doubt I’ll play much more of Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop in the future, I can’t say it’s because the game is bad. The mini-games featured were all fully functional and didn’t frustrate me at all but they also weren’t fun. There is a ton of content to unlock but nothing I was personally interested in unlocking. The series hasn’t really changed all that much since its debut on the original Nintendo DS. The only real change is that I’m older now. The Cooking Mama series is essentially the video game equivalent to Hasbro’s Easy-Bake-Oven. Younger audiences will likely get the most out of the game while older players will end up less fulfilled than if they went to the kitchen and tried actually making something.