Review: Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop

Majesco might be gone, but Mama ain’t!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 07/07/2017 19:25 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Precision controls make cooking a breeze; unique minigames and tasks are as fun as ever; solid presentation; interesting side activities like decorating and photographing completed dishes; single card four-player download play means all your friends and fam can join in the fun
Poison Mushroom for...
Challenge has been substantially lowered again, which might turn off some fans; not all modes are compelling; selling your sweets is overly simplistic

It looked like the health inspector had finally come along and closed Mama down for good when word came that publisher Majesco was shuttered. The series and its various offshoots had been released by the publisher since the first Cooking Mama dropped in 2006, but when the news arrived late last year that Majesco was defunct, the future of the franchise quickly came into question. Fortunately, developer Office Creates wasn’t daunted by the loss of its publisher, instead choosing to push forward with Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop and pegging Rising Star Games to handle distribution. Sweet Shop has ditched the series numbering for this installment, but despite not having a “six” on the box, this is very much the Cooking Mama that fans have known for over a decade… for better and worse.

For the uninitiated, Cooking Mama is an arcade-style cooking game. Each recipe has a string of tasks that must be fulfilled by completing a variety of different minigames. These tasks are usually timed and require players to input taps and swipes on the touch screen that mimic simple cooking gestures like chopping, slicing, pouring and spreading. Complete the activities as directed and the titular Mama will reward you with a medal depending on the quality of your work. When the series made its debut, it was met with a response similar to the original Harvest Moon: fans were surprised that a seemingly mundane activity could translate so well into a video game. Cooking Mama served as a proof of concept that the DS touch screen could offer an entirely new type of gaming experience that traditional button presses couldn’t come close to replicating.

Flash forward 11 years, and Cooking Mama’s charm has worn off a bit after an abundance of repetitive releases and little in the way of genuine innovation with each subsequent installment. I’d like to be able to say that Sweet Shop is the evolutionary leap that the series has been waiting for, but it isn’t. That said, despite not blazing a new path, Sweet Shop is still an undeniably serviceable and fun game that is the perfect jumping on point for both new and lapsed fans. The focus this time might be on baking, but all of the signature gameplay that makes Cooking Mama enjoyable is on display here, sharper and more accessible than ever. It might not be quite as robust as Cooking Mama 5, but it’s a worthwhile addition to the series, nonetheless.

I’ve noted that Sweet Shop isn’t as features rich as its predecessor, but I think that it was necessary for Office Creates to scale back a bit this time around. Cooking Mama has become incredibly prolific over the years, encompassing games that range from gardening to caring for a child (really!). With the collapse of Majesco, going back to basics seems like a wise way of reminding everyone what makes the series special and so enduring. The game begins with a bevy of different modes that can be engaged in, but to start with, fans are directed to focus on the Let’s Make Sweets! mode, which is where all of the cooking is done. As always, the thrill of taking on the various activities and challenges to complete each of the 60 available dishes is quite mesmerizing. It’s easy to get into a rhythm making everything from sweet rolls to cupcakes, and what’s more, at the end of each recipe players can freely decorate their creations.

One of the carryovers from Cooking Mama 5 to Sweet Shop is the comparatively lax grading standards that debuted in that game. In some past Cooking Mama titles, it was almost impossible to score a gold medal without being absolutely perfect when crafting a dish, and even then, sometimes the player’s diligence wasn’t enough. That’s not the case here, which will be a boon to newbies, but I’d wager that series veterans might feel like Sweet Shop lacks some of the challenge that they’re accustomed to. I was never all that big of a fan of Cooking Mama’s insane difficulty, and I appreciated how Cooking Mama 5 lowered the intensity a notch, but at the same time I do wish that Sweet Shop had some more bite than it does. It isn’t a total cake walk, but odds are that most won’t feel much pressure when trying to score gold during their playtimes.

Beyond baking cakes and cookies, Sweet Shop has more to offer. Once a sweet is completed, it can then be sold in the player’s shop, rewarding players with tickets that can then be used to purchase items like costumes and decorations for personalization. It’s an okay diversion, but there’s not much to it. Shop patrons invariably come to buy whatever players have put out, and there’s no interesting interactions with them to make the waiting worthwhile. What became clear to me as I played through Sweet Shop is that it’s clearly the most deliberately approachable game in the series. The lowered difficulty level is telling enough, but the bulk of the activities separate from the main cooking game are largely devoid of any complexity or challenge. Again, I’m not slamming Sweet Shop for this, and I acknowledge there is some depth to be had here, but it is something to consider for longtime fans and those who want to be tested.

That all said, there are still positives to be found in some of these different modes and side activities. World Challenge sets players to building shops around the world and completing minigames to sell their treats. There’s also a Photo Studio mode to look at the snapshots that you can take of your creations. Which is quite fun, surprisingly; it doesn’t hurt that the food is rendered wonderfully in Sweet Shop. It’s no powerhouse from a graphical standpoint, but the Cooking Mama games have a truly distinct look that continues to shine even in this sixth installment. Sweet Shop is a step backwards in some ways, but it’s a classic example of less being more. As a result, it’s also a strong jumping on point for new and lapsed fans. It’s good fun, there are a bunch of recipes to complete, and the charm of Mama as she guides players through the game is wonderful, as always. Sweet Shop should by no means be a swan song for the series; instead, it’s a rallying cry.

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