Once upon a time videogames were all about blasting space aliens, breaking bricks, kicking ass as a ninja and/or saving a princess. Now, it seems like every activity imaginable has a videogame, from cheer leading to dog grooming to gardening. This is best exemplified by the insane popularity of cooking/food-based games, a genre that was practically single-handedly invented by a little DS game three years ago called Cooking Mama.
The title was immediately popular on the casual-friendly DS, and went on to spawn several sequels and tons of similar games, including other TV tie-ins like Hell’s Kitchen and Iron Chef, paved the way for more novel ideas like the cookbook software Cooking Navi, upcoming restaurant sim Order Up, and the more casual imitators, like the Cakemania series. Right now, cooking games are everywhere you look – you can hardly shake a rolling pin in a game aisle without knocking down something tasty-looking. But why the sudden kitchen invasion? I have a few theories.
1.The timing was perfect to coincide with the DS and Wii motion controls and casual mentality.
2005 came a year after the DS made casual, touch-screen controlled games very attractive to gamers, so Cooking Mama was very much in the right place at the right time, so to speak. Plus, the games go so well with Nintendo’s “everyone’s a gamer” mentality and Wii-proliferation, since they tend to incorporate the Wii’s motion controls well and offer simple, fun gameplay. Imagine the same style of game on an older system – it just wouldn’t be as fun.
2.The popularity of the food-based TV shows.
The food network went from being something my Grandma watched on occasion to one of the hottest cable channels seemingly overnight, with a slew of “food personalities” and exciting (yes, exciting) reality programs about food. Likewise, reality shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef on other networks became blazingly popular somewhere around 2006. The renewed (or rekindled) interest in food and the glamorization of being a “foodie” surely have something to do with these games’ popularity.
3.For the most part, the games have actually been decent.
Here’s where we get a little bit subjective – but all the Cooking Mama games have been quite good. The games offer tons of variety (all those recipes!), genuinely fun and challenging gameplay, and ridiculously fun multiplayer. Scores of the three games have been decent-to-high across the board, and many detractors (like Cakemania) have done well ratings-wise as well. For casual games, they’ve consistently been in the ‘better” pile.
4.There have always been food games. These are just the next generation.
Remember BurgerTime? Or Fast Food and Tapper and Food Fight? The old-school arcades and early systems were full of food-related gaming – heck, you could even throw Pac-Man on that list and easily get away with it. The current crop of cooking titles really embodies an extension of a popular subgenre of casual titles on the PC (which in turn mimic old-school arcade gameplay concepts). Food has always been some part of the gaming landscape, it’s just that now being a foodie is fashionable.
Cooking games certainly have their benefits – after all, you might just learn something that easily applies to real life (hint: nothing impresses the ladies like the ability to whip up a nice dinner from scratch). And really, they’re quite harmless – that is, until Rachael Ray decides to put her stamp on a game.