Apple Arcade’s ‘Cooking Mama: Cuisine!’ is equal parts stressful and cute

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This summer, Apple added a new entry in the Cooking Mama franchise to its gaming subscription service, Apple Arcade. In “Cooking Mama: Cuisine!,” you help craft dishes like Indonesian fried rice, churrasco and jambalaya, all by tapping away on your smartphone.

“Cuisine” takes much of the same formula as the other titles with one twist — instead of players getting to choose the dish they wish to make and working toward it, this time they pick ingredients and discover what recipe they’ve made at the end. A finger tap becomes kneading dough, dicing onions or even dipping some cabbage in flour.

The eponymous Cooking Mama will shower you with compliments if you nail the techniques: “Wow, even better than Mama!” she will exclaim if you earn a full three stars for some kitchen task.

It’s not all relaxing fun and games, though. “Cooking Mama: Cuisine!” has heart-palpitating moments, especially when food physics refuse to cooperate, such as when you’re trying to get stubborn onion or garlic to come off the cutting board in a time-based challenge. Or, tossing black bean meatballs with expert hand-eye coordination, taking care to not drop the ball (literally).

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“Cooking Mama: Cuisine!” from developer Office Create Corp. arrived on Apple Arcade in June, but it’s still a relatively fresh release. The game starts players off with a few ingredients that can be combined to make different, discoverable recipes. There aren’t that many recipes to unlock yet, though, as users must log in daily to receive new ingredients. The recipes so far seem to be more savory than in some of the previous Cooking Mama titles, and span a wide range of cuisines.

The Cooking Mama franchise began in 2006, with the first title launching on the Nintendo DS and aimed at young girls. The franchise has had over a dozen entries (some of which were flops).

Unlike another Cooking Mama title on mobile called “Cooking Mama: Let’s Cook!,” “Cuisine” is included in Arcade, a $5 a month subscription curated and controlled by Apple since 2019. That means “Cuisine” doesn’t rely on ads and in-game purchases to generate revenue, and as a result, its interface is decidedly less cluttered and overwhelming than “Let’s Cook!” which has tons of pop-ups, advertisements for in-game promotional events and constant entreaties to watch ads.

Office Create Corp. CEO Noriyasu Togakushi said that the idea for “Cooking Mama: Cuisine!” came from thinking about how Cooking Mama could exist on Apple Arcade as a sleeker title without tons of microtransactions.

“This was a game we took on precisely because we were developing for Apple Arcade, where we could focus on just pursuing the fun of the game,” Togakushi said.

But “Cuisine” can also look a bit bare bones, and can at times feel frustrating to play, as it has no option to retry levels with in-game currency or buy new recipes in advance. Players can repeatedly make dishes, but are limited by how many ingredients they have (and how many the game developers have so far included). New recipes are discovered by unlocking ingredients every day, or by performing well on a dish and collecting stars.

Released in 2015, “Cooking Mama: Let’s Cook!” has been downloaded 34.1 million times worldwide in the Apple App Store, according to data tracker Sensor Tower. Getting an idea of how popular “Cuisine,” and more broadly, the Apple Arcade subscription service has been, has proved more difficult. Apple declined to share specific app data. Sensor Tower said it did not collect Apple Arcade data.

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The game’s use of different ingredients depending on the day is meant to resemble what it’s like to cook in real life, when people use what they have on hand. Office Create Corp. also worked on including recipes that could be loosely followed in real life, albeit not precisely.

“ ‘Cooking Mama’ is played by people all across the world, so there are famous dishes that everyone knows that we just can’t leave out,” said “Cooking Mama: Cuisine!” producer Tomoaki Matsui. “But we also have to have a balance of recipes from different regions so that we can still provide the sense of surprise and discovery for cuisine.”

To recreate realistic-looking ingredients in the game, Tomoaki noted that game developers either cooked the ingredients themselves or asked restaurants to share what food prep looks like.

“You have the way that oil jumps when you drop an ingredient in a hot, oiled fry pan. You have the way ingredients move during various kinds of food preparation,” Togakushi, the CEO, said. “We often get comments from players saying that the cooking scenes and finished dishes in the game make them feel hungry, which I feel like is a sign of our success.”

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