If you've resisted the lure of video games because war, sports and car theft don't appeal, beware. There's a completely different genre to hook you in: cooking.
That's right, cooking, both real and imagined. More and more titles are centered on food this holiday season, and what was once a genre aimed at little girls making cakes has turned into something else entirely. It has become a broad category that allows gamers to burn quite nicely in the real and virtual worlds.
Taking a look at the variety of titles is a bit like exploring the cereal aisle at the grocery store. So many choices. Here is a nice sampling, from the fiber-encrusted to the sugar-coated offerings.
Personal Trainer: Cooking
nolead begins Nintendo DS
$19.99 nolead ends
This title has been creating a lot of buzz lately for two reasons. First, this isn't really a game - it's a total cooking resource. With more than 240 real recipes from all over the world, this is quite a package.
Before I began adding to my less-than-complete culinary skills, I did a search for some of the more interesting dishes, just for kicks.
Deep fried sardines from Japan or Galician octopus from Spain, perhaps?
That's the other thing with Personal Trainer: Cooking. Considering the portable gaming platform, many who own a DS probably have not considered such a serious culinary endeavor.
Brian Crecente, managing editor of the gaming news and opinion site Kotaku.com, was surprised by the number of readers who were seriously willing to give it a try.
"There are probably many gamers out there that may not go into a bookstore, buy a cookbook, and try making something. . . . With the DS, the exercise comes to them."
Of course, when firing the game up, one has to figure out what to make. With so many choices, indecision is easy.
The good news is that the recipes can be searched by country, ingredients, requirements (cooking method, calories, difficulty, etc.), or keyword. (On the downside, the sources of the recipes are not cited, so I have no idea where they originated.)
I am a meat man, so in my most hedonistic searches I found Australian Meat Pie.
According to the game, the meat pie requires 45 minutes of prep time, contains 630 calories per serving, and makes enough for one to six people. A nice feature is that servings are adjustable, and the recipe responds with the proper amount of ingredients.
Grocery shopping for a recipe usually involves a long, scribbled list to decipher at the store. Since the DS fits in your pocket, you can just bring it with you.
It might also be a great way to get the kids involved in cooking and shopping, as they can help pick out the meal, shop for it, and help with the prep.
A Chef Boyardee-looking character will talk you through the preparations, and if your hands are covered in foodstuffs, as mine often were, you can even talk to the DS with commands such as "Continue" to go to the next step. There are plenty of clear and comprehensive images to go along with the audio instructions. Not the most delectable-looking images, but they suffice.
The Australian meat pie I made was good - and simple. Basically a Sloppy Joe stuffed in a pie crust and baked. Manly man stuff!
My pet peeves don't have to do with the game but with reality. Namely, the DS is a small device - one that can easily get buried under a more difficult meal with many ingredients scattered about a countertop. And I can't say I was entirely cool with having my electronics in the kitchen.
That being said, for the price, Personal Trainer: Cooking could be an invaluable resource and a new way to get into cooking or get out of doing it in more traditional ways.
With Jamie Oliver
nolead begins Nintendo DS
nolead ends Man, Jamie Oliver has it all. He is a great chef, has his own TV show, and now has a pretty cool game. Unlike Personal Trainer: Cooking, Oliver's What's Cooking? enables users to create complete dishes in a virtual kitchen. In fact, you can mess around with more than 100 of Oliver's personal creations in the 10 virtual kitchens in the game. Why one would need so many different cooking environments, I don't know. (But if you are going to do it, a nice oil-drum barbecue grill would have been a nice addition.)
Since everything is virtual, you get a huge number of ingredients to use already in the game, and all the virtual creations are a great primer for transferring the skills to a real kitchen.
Instead of the cartoon chef in Personal Trainer: Cooking, Jamie (a real chef) guides you through all of the instructions this time around, and the food images are much better, as Oliver has always been big on presentation.
What's Cooking? also has a feature that allows users to experiment with their own creations. Up to 100 recipes can be stored on DS to share with others, a handy feature if there are culinary foes and friends about.
Iron Chef America:
nolead begins Nintendo DS and Wii
$29.99-39.99 nolead ends
Now this is really a game, and while I guess one could try some of this stuff in the kitchen, if you are familiar with the show, you might want to keep this in the living room lest someone get hurt.
Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine follows another food game based on a TV show, Hell's Kitchen: The Game.
Just as on the show, announcer Alton Brown calls the shots. Gamers prepare multiple dishes with the secret ingredient using speed and dexterity against the master chefs.
On the Wii, the controllers serve as knives, spoons, spatulas - you name it. On the DS, the stylus does the job. With more than 300 recipes (which are really pseudo-mini games), one could be playing this game for a while.
The best part, however, is the chance to take on your friends and family in a more personal Iron Chef battle: Who makes dinner? Settle it here. Mom, can I have pizza instead of Brussels sprouts? Settle it here.
Other games that revolve around cooking that I recommend include the classic and cute new Cake Mania title, Cake Mania: In the Mix (Nintendo Wii), in which Jill Evans must once again keep the cakes moving on schedule or the bakery is - well, done.
One of the oldest cooking game franchises, Cooking Mama, is also back with Cooking Mama World Kitchen (Nintendo Wii, DS and PC). Similar to the other games that use the controllers as kitchen utensils, it lets players make onscreen items under the watchful eye of Mama herself.