One of my favorite games growing up was Cooking Mama, specifically the version on the Nintendo DS. Cooking Mama is a Japanese video game series that lets users cook different food items through a series of mini-games. The main mechanics behind the game are simple, as the game was designed for children. To start off, the player chooses a recipe from a catalog of different food options. Once the player chooses a recipe, they play mini-games associated with each step of cooking the dish. These mini-games are timed, and involve using different skills to chop, blend, grill, and other cooking activities. Each activity is graded on accuracy and completion within the time period, and the player is awarded a medal at the end of cooking the entire meal that represents their overall performance.
The collection of activities closely mimics what cooking an actual dish would be like, creating a dynamic that simulates cooking some of our favorite dishes. Although the graphics make it more cartoon-y and childlike, the same pressure to cook a tasty dish while also making the dish well-presented, creates a stressful but engaging game. This dynamic leads to three different aesthetic approaches: challenge, discovery, and expression. Challenge is the main aesthetic, as most of the game consists of mini games to create new dishes. Players must be able to master the fine motor skills that it takes to “Cook like Mama” and create good dishes. The second aesthetic is discovery, because there are countless features of Cooking Mama waiting to be unlocked. Over time, players can unlock more and more dishes, unlocking unique mini-games along the way that change different features to create unique experiences for reoccurring gamplay (such as chopping veggies). Lastly, there is a touch of the expression aesthetic. Individuals can often change the appearance of the final plate, making it look delicious to themselves, while also being able to change the appearance of the kitchen / cooking utensils / and other gameplay components. Overall, Cooking Mama puts a twist on preparing virtual food, and it’s aesthetics are what make it such an iconic memory from my childhood.