After DJ Hero and Rock Band, it’s only a matter of time before every skill imaginable has been made into a videogame in lieu of anyone actually learning how to do anything the old-fashioned way, with their own two hands. Case in point: the arcade-like kitchen simulator Cook Or Be Cooked!, the Food Network’s eyebrow-raising maiden voyage into making videogames. But where other skill-based games make no promise of being the least bit practical or educational, COBC boldly vows to “improve a player’s cooking skills with real-world training”—even though their real kitchens are probably a scant few steps away from the Wii.
Granted, there are fewer messes to clean up in COBC, but the game is puzzlingly conservative and misleading for its lofty mission statement. The “30+” recipes touted all over the packaging are actually the result of some very creative math that allows a meal of pancakes and baked bacon to count as two separate recipes. Instead, you have 12 unambitious recipes culled from the network’s How To Boil Water cookbook thrown at you: Instead of offering the slightest bit of escapism by letting you try your hand at five-star meals, the game relegates you to more familiar ones, like lasagna or quesadillas. Aspiring gourmets need not apply.
Food preparation is done via the Wii-mote and nunchuk’s motion-sensing capabilities: Depending on the recipe, the controllers let you crank up oven dials, season dishes, chop ingredients, or anything else called for. But really, COBC seeks to test your ability to multitask efficiently. Meals are broken into onscreen icons of each portion with corresponding kitchen timers. Waggle the nunchuk to proceed to the next step after selecting an icon, then toil away until prompted for the next action. The ability to fast-forward through any and all cooking times is a nice perk, as it’s hard to imagine anyone will want to watch digital water boil for exactly three minutes. But oftentimes, you’ll overshoot and get docked for it by the judges, lesser-known Food Network personalities Mory Thomas and Susie Fogelson. Though COBC occasionally tries too hard to make food preparation game-like (as in the decidedly non-realistic Dance Dance Revolution-style mini-games for assembling sandwiches), its core mechanics, when they click, can be surprisingly immersive. It’s too bad the overall fun to be had is such a short-lived flash in the pan.