Forget meat thermometers: what every budding chef needs in their life is a Yum Yum Cookstar judge. Nothing can inflate your ego like one. Pouring ingredients onto some kitchen scales? “What a genius!”. Washing some rice in a colander? “This is mind-blowing!”. Why, thank you, Yum Yum Cookstar judge. I just kind of did it, you know?
You certainly don’t need to be a competent cook to succeed in Yum Yum Cookstar. This is cooking that’s gone through a conversion process to make it into a series of games that kind of, sort of, approximate the real thing. Using a blender has suddenly become a memory game, where you have to press its many, many buttons in a certain order (I don’t know about you, but our Kenwood has roughly one button). Cooking something in the oven becomes a rhythm action game where you have to tap the button to some Nile Rogers-style funky beats (woah, wait – this was actually soundtracked by Nile Rogers!).
It’s not quite a simulation then. Yum Yum Cookstar is instead a bizarre hybrid of cooking competition (with no other competitors until you hit the game’s obscurely hidden Tournament mode) and WarioWare minigame collection, all set to a fantastic soundtrack that gives proceedings a kind of rhythm action edge. It’s Cooking Mama, but Mama is feeling the beat today.
The game loop is pretty simple. Yum Yum Cookstar begins by teaching you a series of lessons. Before you get to make the unicorn cookies, enchiladas and multi-coloured sundaes, you’re going to learn the basics. So, you’re completing a set of six instructional minigames where you’re tapping up and down to slice veg, or spinning the analogue stick around to approximate stirring.
These actions are against the clock, so you better git gud at waggling a stick, tapping to a beat, and memorising the sequence of things. It’s hard to fail these lessons – the failure will happen in the recipes proper – so you’re moving through your syllabus, eager to get to the recipes that unlock afterwards.
Each sequence of lessons unlocks up to ten recipes, and you can immediately start diving into them. There are four options here, ranging from Easy to Cookstar, and they differ in more ways than Yum Yum Cookstar lets on. They imply that the only difference is the degree of instruction, as each minigame in the recipe has an intro card that reminds you what the hell it is doing. In Cookstar, that instruction is gone, so you have to do it by memory. What Yum Yum Cookstar doesn’t tell you, however, is that the speed of the minigames and the margin for error also sharpen, so be prepared.
Each recipe is six minigames in succession, following – very loosely – the actual recipe that might create the thing. So, enchiladas do indeed have you folding the wrap (sliding the analogue stick to the beat), chopping up peppers (tapping down as fast as your little human fingers can manage) and tossing cheese at it from a great height (a kind of Space Invaders-thing where you’re lobbing cheese in the vague direction of some moving Pyrex). The time ticks down, and you’re given a score at the end of each round, with the judges fellating your ego.
At the end of the recipe, the dish is presented to the judges, who start shaking with sheer bliss. They compare your meal to the ambrosia of the gods, their eyes rolling back as their tastebuds are touched by perfection. It’s a bit uncomfortable, if we’re being honest. We’re used to our kids shrugging and asking if they can swap their meal for some Mini Cheddars. Luckily, there’s a Simon Cowell-a-like in the middle of the judging panel, and he tosses out some mild compliment that brought us down to earth. We found ourselves desperately seeking Cookstar Cowell’s approval, as if we were missing a father figure in our life.
Even though there’s no one else to compete with, you get given a gold cup for your efforts (damn modern kids, getting trophies for just participating, etc), and the menu desperately beckons you to play the recipe again by showing you that you have got one of four of the trophies, since there’s one for each difficulty. Super Mario Kart, we blame you for these kinds of shenanigans.
Complete all the recipes and more lessons are unlocked, and so the loop goes on. Yum Yum Cookstar has a penchant for overblown pink meals in the shape of unicorns, and we like to imagine that Cookstar Cowell sidles off the stage at odd points to throw up in a dustbin.
A public service announcement here, as Yum Yum Cookstar doesn’t make it at all clear: to earn any achievements, and to finally unlock its competitive tournaments, you have to be playing on the hardest Cookstar difficulty. Which is, indeed, very hard. If you’ve ever measured out ingredients into kitchen scales against the clock, we can tell you that it’s surprisingly hard. We’ve regularly dumped a whole brick of butter into a dish out of sheer panic.
But come on Ramsay, is it any good? Well, that’s all relative, isn’t it. Yum Yum Cookstar is, after all, a game for kids, as we could have surmised by the sheer amount of E numbers in every meal. It passed our Kid Test, patented, which involves sitting a seven year-old and four year-old in front of it and seeing if it sticks. And sticks it does. The instructions are (mostly) clear, and the actions are simple. On easier difficulties, the margins for error are wide, and our kids were able to stack together a wonky moussaka and still get a thumbs up from the judges. The music is a great enabler here: once you learn that everything should be done in time to the rather fantastic music, you can actually get pretty far.
It was less successful on the Adult Test, so keep that in mind. Our biggest gripe is the lack of ways you can play it. There’s clearly a hardy, robust core to Yum Yum Cookstar, but different difficulty modes are pretty much the only ways to engage with it. Want to play multiplayer or cooperatively? Nah, you’re playing this on your own. Want to go up against other players across the globe, tackling high score tables? Nope, you’re competing against yourself. There’s no endurance or survival modes that keeps the minigames running, and you’re never working on a super-recipe that requires more than the traditional six stages. It’s just recipe after recipe, lesson after lesson, until the game just stops and your cookbook is complete.
There’s some imagination to the minigames – we didn’t expect to be squirting ketchup from a distance onto a hot dog – but a solid fifty percent of them are ‘press the button in time with the music’, which is a touch more repetitive than we would have liked.
But these negatives get balanced out by the sheer glossiness of the presentation. Okay, the judges have a faraway stare that can only come from one too many edibles, but everything here is slick and crisp. The music is brilliant, as mentioned, and the meals, appliances and ingredients all have a gloss that doesn’t exactly make them appetising, but does make them presentable in an ‘airbrushed for the menu’ kind of way.
Our judgement depends on whose team you’re on. Our kids loved Yum Yum Cookstar, thanks to its emphasis on banging out easy meals with a cracking Nile Rogers soundtrack. They could easily get to grips with the minigames, and good scores (and overly complimentary comments from the judges) were all within reach. But if you’re on Team Reviewer, then expect a creeping sense of repetition, as Yum Yum Cookstar can’t find other ways to play its rather simplistic and overly familiar game loop of cook and train, cook and train.
We found Yum Yum Cookstar to be a bit of a hollow doughnut: it still looks good, but we couldn’t shake the sense that something was missing. Our kids, though, gobbled it up.
You can buy Yum Yum Cookstar from the Xbox Store