Games for Lunch: Personal Trainer: Cooking
Release Date: Nov. 24, 2008
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site
0:00 I am definitely not a natural in the kitchen, so I'm hoping this game will help make me less reluctant to hover over a range.
0:01 The game starts with an all-purpose warning about raw meat, seafood, eggs, food allergies, letting kids cook and using oven mitts. OK then!
0:02 "Welcome to Personal Trainer: Cooking," says the black-and-white, hand-drawn chef on-screen. "Before we go any further, please adjust my voice to the speed you like." There's a slider on the touch-screen. The slowest and fastest speeds are pretty awful-sounding. The default seems all right to my wife and me...
0:03 "Getting ready. Don't touch the power button." This chef's voice is nice and soothing. On the top screen, the unnamed chef (let's call him Mr. Chef) dances back and forth. "You're ready to start cooking tasty dishes from all over the world!" Damn right I am!
0:05 The game points us to the "Important Points" section of "Cooking A-Z." This includes important tips like "Amounts of cheese are estimates." and "How to hold a kitchen knife." Nice photos to accompany, but I don't think we're THAT hopeless.
0:07 Off to the recipes section to pick something to eat. We choose to browse by country, but you can also go by ingredients and dietary requirements. I'm amazed at the selection of available countries: U.S., Peru, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, UK, France, Belgium, Switzerland, North Africa (which is apparently a country), Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Russia, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Japan, "Australasia" and Mexico. 245 recipes in all! We decide to be brave and try France, which has 30-plus recipes.
0:10 "France prides itself on its tradition of gourmet cuisine," reads a message on the top screen. "From the famous dairy products of Normandy in the north to the herb and olive-based dishes of mountainous Provence in the South, French cuisine is exceptionally rich in regional variation." As we scroll on the bottom screen, the top screen shows a picture of the completed dish, along with the number of calories and estimated prep time. Of course, the ones that look the best have the most calories...
0:12 After a first pass, we're considering the following: Chicken Morengo, Coq au Vin, Scallops with Garlic Butter, Gratin Dauphinois (cheesy potatoes), Stuffed Tomatoes and an Onion Tart. We somehow resist the delicious-looking Chocolate Mousse and Pound Cake. "That's the end of France," Michelle says, ominously.
0:17 We settle on the Stuffed Tomatoes after much debate. One serving equals one tomato. We're hungry enough for three, probably, but we can only choose one, two or four servings. D'oh! We choose one and multiply!
0:18 A list of ingredients comes on-screen and we check off the ones we don't have in the house already. We also look through the needed cooking utensils. A cooking scale is apparently "essential," but we don't have one. We'll muddle through, I guess.
0:21 With the shopping list complete, it's off to the market to buy the ingredients. I'll pause the timer here since the game is technically in standby.
0:30 I didn't really time the shopping trip or take notes in the aisles or anything, mainly because I was shopping for other stuff too. Let's just estimate nine minutes for the actual shopping, OK? OK. Anyway, it was a little awkward using a paper sheet for the non-dinner things I was shopping for and the "DS shopping list" for dinner stuff, especially because holding a DS in a supermarket looks a bit ridiculous. I suppose I could have put my whole list in the DS using the "Notes" feature (which seems to have much-improved handwriting recognition), but it's too late now ... I was very impressed that the game recommended I pick "plump tomatoes with tight skin and a glossy sheen." I should also note that I got Swiss cheese instead of the gruyere the game recommends, to save some money. Game journalism is not as lucrative as you might expect...
0:31 Now that the shopping's done, I click "Continue." "All right, let's gets started," says Mr. Chef. "The first step is cutting the tomatoes. You'll need a cutting board and a kitchen knife." Warnings for what materials are needed are a nice touch.
0:33 We slice the tops and save them for later, as instructed. My wife says "Continue" to get the game to move on to the next selection, but it doesn't seem to register. I say "Continue," loudly and clearly, and it moves on just fine. Hmm...
0:36 The game accidentally interprets our idle chatter as an instruction to move on to next step. Worst of all, we have to wait for Mr. Chef to stop yammering before we can tell him to go back to the last step. Anyway, we've sliced off the tops and scooped out the tomatoes.
0:41 Every time the chef's knife comes down on the cutting board, the game thinks we want to "Continue." Oy.
0:45 We're afraid to talk too loud, for fear that Mr. Chef will hear us and torment us further. That said, I do like the "More Details" section, which describes exactly HOW to mince garlic.
0:49 In between steps, we've taken to looking at the Ingredients page just to escape from the voice recognition.
0:52 "That's it for preparations. You'll need to saut? the ingredients. You'll need a frying pan." That was simple, especially since Michelle did most of the chopping.
0:55 I brown the meat while Michelle saut?s the veggies. We're quite a team. During a break, I go to the options and turn off the annoying voice recognition. The stylus will have to do...
1:07 Browning the veggies and meat took a long time... We're already over the "estimated preparation time" ... and there's two of us working. We're just amateurs, though.
1:15 It's finally in the oven and cooking for nine minutes. An on-screen timer counts us down to dinner. Michelle tells me they always underestimate on these things and I feel better. We sample the leftover beef/pork/onion/garlic stuffing while we wait for the oven. In is DELICIOUS, if I do say so myself (and I do!)
1:24 "Transfer the tomatoes to a serving dish and garnish them with the remaining basil. They're ready to eat!" Yeah, we don't bother with that and just move the heating dish to the table. I'll update you on how they taste when we're done.
2:00 After the meal and cleanup, I can say it was a super-tasty evening! When I hit "Continue" on the game, Mr. Chef claps amidst whistling and cheering in the background. We did it! We cooked a meal! "Well done!" says Mr. Chef.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Despite the wonky voice recognition, it's still easier to handle than a cookbook, and it seems to produce super-tasty stuff so far.