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Cooking Guide Impressions: Chris

In case you missed it, I recently crafted a three-course meal with Cooking Guide: Can't Decide What to Eat? by my side (and with varying degrees of success). As the kind of self-confessed kitchen klutz that could ruin cereal, I was curious to find out whether Nintendo's cook-'em-up could change my ways for the better. Would it grip my hand tightly enough through the more testing moments? Could it make my diet cheaper and/or healthier? How much background knowledge of cooking would I need to get started?

I'll answer all of those questions in time, but I'll begin at the most logical point: preparing to cook. As my current diet mainly consists of sandwiches, takeaway food, microwave-friendly meals, pasta, noodles, rice, or something to do with chicken, I had a reasonable amount of shopping to do before I could get started. Although I found most of the required ingredients in a local supermarket, a couple proved more elusive. Both Alisha and myself already mentioned the trouble we had in locating amaretti biscuits, while the hunt for mirin and sake took me on an infuriating trek across Manchester's Chinatown district.

Furthermore, the game contains a number of what I would call "one-off" ingredients. Mirin and amaretti biscuits, for example, appear in only one Cooking Guide recipe, while cocoa is in just two. If a newbie chef wasn't too keen on Chicken Teriyaki, it's likely that the freshly bought bottle of mirin would sit in a cupboard for years to come, unused and forgotten (fortunately, I liked Chicken Teriyaki, and will probably make it again). This, I suspect, is a direct consequence of Cooking Guide attempting to be too diverse and multi-cultural. I personally found some of the ingredients to be overly obscure, and limited in their use.

It wasn't just the ingredients that caused me headaches. Straight from the start, Cooking Guide assumes users have an array of kitchen equipment. From what I could tell by flicking through the desserts section, a food processor is listed as "Essential" for a good number of recipes, while the Bônet required an espresso machine (in the end, I opted to use "espresso-style" filtered coffee)! I live in a shared house with three other bachelors; frankly, we're content if we have a functioning toaster.

Some smaller details annoyed me, such as the ridiculously sensitive microphone feature. The idea is great, in theory: as you complete each step, you shout "Continue!" into the DS's mic, and you progress to the next step. The execution, alas, is awful. Every little sound you make in the kitchen is picked up by the microphone, each time prompting a response from the infernal Cooking Guide chef, who I quickly grew to despise.

A typical scenario for you: I place a spoon on the sideboard. "Sorry?" asks chef. I crack an egg. "Pardon?" I chop a green bean. "I didn't quite catch that." I hurl my DS clean out of the window in a frothing fit of rage. Chef even frequently repeats himself. Kitchens are full of noise, so having such a sensitive microphone was never going to turn out well. Obviously, I could always tap the touchscreen to move forwards in my recipe, but then fingers covered in sticky Bônet mix don't combine well with the DS's touchscreen.

Up until now, my impressions have been pretty negative, but it wasn't all this frustrating. For starters, the whole package was truly idiot-proof, and never left me confused -- absolutely everything is explained, which is exactly what I needed. This makes a difference from normal cooking books, which will only need to mention a word such as "braise" for my brain to start hurting.

The menus are intelligently laid out -- give it five or ten minutes and you'll find yourself navigating them at lightning speed -- and there are numerous filters available when browsing for recipes (so you can look at dishes from Taiwan, or all dishes containing canned tuna, or all dishes below 400 calories, etc.). Oh, and it has the best text recognition system ever on the DS. Seriously -- this even trumps the likes of Professor Layton and Brain Training.

Finally, it also taught me a lot more than other training games I've encountered (though Alisha may disagree, given that she's also road-tested My French Coach), and it's almost certain that I'll use it again, at least for one or two meals a week. I'll perfect my Bônet yet!

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