Review: Cooking Mama: Cookstar (Switch)

A rough but still serviceable time in the kitchen.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/25/2020 05:20 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Established Cooking Mama formula is recreated here, which will please diehards and longtime fans; food looks the part along with some decent animations; a lot of recipes to make; vegetarian mode for those who want the option; a lot of ways to customize Mama and the player avatar
Poison Mushroom for...
Repetitive gameplay doesn't go beyond anything every other Cooking Mama has already done; Mama interjects too often throughout every recipe; motion controls need polish


Let’s get the elephant(s) out of the way first when it comes to Cooking Mama: Cookstar. This is a game that has had one hell of a roller coaster of a launch. While it’s not necessary to know this backstory to play the game, I’d like to very briefly discuss it here. First, Cookstar launched in the Switch eShop in March and was quickly yanked from sale later that same day. Then, rumors about the game secretly being utilized to mine for cryptocurrency using people’s Switch hardware spread and were subsequently disproved. Finally, IP holder Office Create and publisher Planet Entertainment both issued press releases; the former declared that Cookstar is being sold illegally, while the latter affirms it is well within the parameters of the agreement that gives Planet Entertainment the right to sell Cookstar.

The reason I mention all of this controversy is because it has doubtlessly colored some people’s perceptions about the game, for better or worse. So, let’s clear the air a bit as I assure you, this is a fairly standard Cooking Mama game. There’s a whole buffet’s worth of dishes to prepare. There are a couple of new features like the ability to plate and stage a meal for photographing and posting online. There’s even the opportunity to play Cookstar with both motion and traditional controls. Had the title been released without the accompanying tumult, it would likely have come and gone without a lot of fanfare. As it stands, even with the legal sparring going on between Planet Entertainment and Office Create there isn’t a lot to differentiate Cookstar from the games in the series that have preceded it.


1st Playable Productions handled development duties, and while the outfit has produced a number of games over the years (including the Nintendo DS version of Puzzle Quest from 2007), the bulk of its back catalog is comprised of ports and adaptations. Cookstar, while still licensed IP, is nonetheless a rare time when 1st Playable has branched out to do something a little different. Sadly, the studio’s efforts fall short of the (admittedly spotty) pedigree of the Cooking Mama franchise as a whole.

Which isn’t to say that Cookstar is the worst game ever made by any stretch of the imagination. The fundamentals of the Cooking Mama experience are all here and accounted for. Players are given multiple recipes of varying levels of complexity in order to produce a wide array of different foods. Whether it’s mochi or cheeseburgers, Cookstar should have a dish for just about everyone—there’s even the option to create exclusively vegetarian meals (a series first). The game provides dozens of dishes to work through, and as is Cooking Mama tradition, some skew towards being realistic while others seem… far less so. Look no further than the Rainbow Grilled Cheese recipe for an example of a dish I’ve never personally heard of.

Not that the fantastical recipes are problematic, of course. They’re just a bit weird. In the way that Cooking Mama dishes can be, which is part of the charm of the series. Yet, as I played more and more of Cookstar, I came to realize that perhaps the game is most guilty of playing things too safe. There isn’t a lot on display to differentiate Cookstar from the eight Cooking Mama titles that came before. In fairness, the series is known for being rather formulaic—it is what it is. That’s not an excuse for questionable controls or bland content, but overall Cooking Mama is safe, cookie cutter gameplay. Fans know what they’re getting with each installment and that’s how Office Create has always played it.

With Cookstar, 1st Playable appears to have been given a very standard template from which to create the game. Everything looks and feels like a higher resolution version of what fans have been playing as far back as the original Cooking Mama on DS. The brand’s visual style hasn’t evolved much since 2006 and that’s mostly the case here. I’m going to push back a bit on the idea that there isn’t a lot to love about Cookstar’s presentation. Sure, there isn’t a ton of visual variety—players will see the same recycled elements repeatedly throughout the experience—but what’s here is decently modeled and rendered. Each respective ingredient looks the part more than ever, and some of the physics of things like potatoes being chopped to pieces are animated well.

It’s that repetition that might prove to be the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back for many a player, unfortunately. Full disclosure: it doesn’t bug me to repeat tasks in Cooking Mama games, and that goes for Cookstar, too. I’ve heard the argument that all the chopping and peeling and so on becomes monotonous and mindless, but I disagree. Cookstar doesn’t strive for a one-to-one recreation of truly cooking any of its dishes, but it does attempt to fabricate an approximation of what it’s like to make a meal, and therein lies the appeal. Cooking Mama at its best is enjoyable because of the way that it gamifies the familiar real-life motions of cutting and pounding. Being bothered about the repeated tasks in Cooking Mama is like complaining about pulling the trigger over and over in a shooter; understanding what the player is signed up for is key here.

With that all noted, it doesn’t mean 1st Playable didn’t drop the ball regardless of my own penchant for repetition. Part of the problem lies in the controls. The motion controls confine players to a single Joy-Con to wave, drag, and swing in order to perform the required tasks for cooking. I don’t feel that the motion controls are broken—since I was a kid, and even through the years of Wii and the Wii Remote, I play games 95% of the time lying down on the ground on my side below the front of the TV screen. So, if I can chop up onions while half prone, I’m not going to claim that the motion controls don’t work. However, they’re absolutely finicky and particular.

On rare occasion my inputs didn’t register at all or registered incorrectly. What is the greater offense in my book is that the motions themselves aren’t always intuitive. The rate of speed by which a task needs to be done doesn’t always feel congruous with how someone might do the deed in the real world. I admit, I’ve already said that Cooking Mama isn’t about creating parity with actual cooking, but it should be close enough that the player can more naturally step into the shoes of being a digital chef, and in that regard Cookstar doesn’t totally meet the challenge. When the sweet spot of a motion is discovered, it becomes easier to adapt and replicate, but even then some of the motions are so awkward in their deliberate execution that the gameplay takes a backseat to slavishly monitoring that the player’s wrist is moving just so in order to succeed. Motion controls can be turned off, thankfully—I prefer traditional button inputs when given the choice—and when played this way I didn’t have any notable problems.

There’s not a ton to do beyond cooking all of the recipes in Cookstar. The game allows players to take their completed dish and, after arranging it, make a social media post of the food. In one of the most meta moments of gaming in 2020, I took a couple of the dishes I’d prepared, plated them, and then sent the shots out on Twitter for all the world to see. It’s a fun and inconsequential diversion; posting on social media is not required and doing so has no bearing on the outcome of a recipe. In a game that doesn’t do a whole lot new, it’s a breath of fresh air, but ultimately too shallow to be worth doing more than once or twice. The scoring system is based on earning a ranking of up to three stars, but the reward for doing so simply unlocks the chance to cook without the button prompts. As a challenge it certainly ratchets up the difficulty, but there isn’t much by way of a reward beyond self-satisfaction. In a game that’s clearly marketed at longtime fans and casual players, such a demand of skill feels out of place.

There’s multiplayer, which is serviceable and makes playing funner by virtue of the goofy and hilarious back and forth that games like this can elicit. Multiplayer doesn’t elevate Cookstar, but it’s worth a spin to try with another player. Mama herself can be customized (along with the skin tone and utensils of the player avatar) with new unlocks provided after earning a two star rank in recipes. The choices are unremarkable, but at least they give some sort of tangible sense of progression that otherwise isn’t wholly present in Cookstar. If it weren’t for these items, the only sign that players are making any headway is when the game reveals a new recipe has become accessible. When it comes to the voice acting, the nominal Mama sounds like she always has. If 1st Playable had shown some restraint in choosing when to have Mama sound off it would have made the experience more enjoyable. As it stands, she is nearly constantly interjecting with the same inane bits of dialogue so often that it can become grating.

If fans are looking for a by-the-numbers Cooking Mama game, where players engage in simple quick time-style button prompts to prepare meals, Cookstar will do the trick. It’s an unspectacular take on a series that has arguably become too formulaic for its own good. Simple quality of life fixes would improve the overall experience, like clustering certain tasks into single modules as opposed to each making up their own, for instance. Unfortunately, 14 years after the launch of the first game, Cooking Mama has failed to do anything but chase the ghost of the original series installments. The first few games were special because they did something new and unique with the touch screen on DS. I think that there’s still plenty to mine from the joy of cooking in this series, but it might be time to find a way to spice up what has become rote.

All of this writing might be for nothing as the odds of most people being able to play Cookstar seem low. The digital version is still vapor and physical copies are unavailable from the publisher and the majority of retailers. It’s unclear if Cookstar will warrant fans selling entire Switch consoles with the game downloaded as was the case with the Silent Hills Playable Teaser on PlayStation 4, but it nevertheless might take extraordinary measures for the average fan to play Cookstar. For those who do get the chance, especially if they’re a fan of Cooking Mama, they can do a lot worse. For everyone else, this is a mostly middling effort that might have risen above with greater polish and ambition from all involved.

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