It seems that the Wii is a machine particularly dedicated to a very particular simulatory experience. Beginning with launch games like Wii Sports, the system’s unique controller has allowed for an unprecedented number of games that are not simply the traditional style of video game simulation but more specifically a series of simulations of a kind of “literalized” physical activity.
Of course, while such physical simulations have existed in the video game tradition almost since video gaming’s inception (steering wheels and accelerator pedals allowing the arcade Pole Position experience to begin to allow players to mimic in some sense the experience of driving in a rather literal kind of way), recent years have seen an uptick in such experiences as peripherals like guitar and drum kit controllers have proliferated alongside the more traditional controllers shipped with the Xbox 360 or PS3.
Many of these attempts to immerse the player not simply in a game but in a physical experience quite akin to some fantasy career, like a rock star, have been pretty successful. While actual guitarists and other critics often deny that playing guitar in Rock Band is anything like playing an actual guitar, the mask that the interface creates for the player is extremely effective. It “feels” authentic enough for the neophyte.
While perhaps experiencing the life of a short order cook or just that of an exceptionally talented and prolific chef may not be an experience that would obviously be akin to (or as desirable as) simulating the career of a rock god, games like Order Up! and Cooking Mama have proven that simulating the physical experience of cracking eggs, dicing onions, and flipping pancakes contains its own interesting and pleasurable zen-like appeal. This brings us to Destineer’s effort to wed both experiences in a single simulation: Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine.
While it may be a few years late to capitalize on the weird cult-following that sprung up briefly around the odd Japanese televised import that treated chefs as something like rock stars, Iron Chef America seems an effort at least to cash in on the similar success of gamers’ recent love affair with physical simulations and maybe more specifically with the niche market of cooking sims.
And, while Iron Chef America does succeed in providing some mimetic experience of the act of cooking, its considerably less innovative and less varied use of the Wiimote to interface with the mundane tasks of cooking is sadly lacking by comparison to its aforementioned predecessors.
To put it simply, if you really like the experience of chopping a lot (and I mean a lot), you’re gonna love Iron Chef.
Additionally, the “game” almost exclusively focuses on such simplistic aspects of the physically simulatory aspects of cooking rather than paying attention to providing any real gaming experience. Unlike Cooking Mama, for instance, there are few types of tasks to perform in kitchen stadium. You chop, you slice, you mix, you boil, you occasionally dip or grill, but mostly you chop or slice or chop or chop or chop.
As a result many of the “mini-games” that have comprised games like Cooking Mama are painfully redundant in this game and generally based more on speed (how fast can I waggle a Wiimote up and down to “chop”in a short period of time) as opposed to speed and precision (consider the activity of “cracking eggs” in cooking mama, which has a time component — crack five eggs in a short amount of time — but also precision — if you swing the Wiimote too hard the eggs will break, too softly and the shell won’t crack). Shaking a Wiimote up and down to chop is okay for a brief period, but without requiring some kind of physical constraints in such activities (like weighing the velocity of movement against the success of the action as cracking eggs in Cooking Mama does), the game fails to feel like something that requires a real level of mastery or skill. It is as if the game insists in providing merely a simulatory experience of chopping than of winning a contest based on skill and technique (y’know, like a game would). Though, I suppose the simulation of the Iron Chef contest itself might fail here too since this is a simulation of a televised cooking contest anyway, not just the experience of whipping up an eggplant souffle at home. In other words, it is supposed to be about testing the player’s competivitive prowess.
So while Iron Chef seems to borrow from Cooking Mama and other cooking sims in its most basic simulatory processes and even mimicks Cooking Mama‘s slightly odd and zany sensibilities (though, the game’s campy humor is, of course, influenced more by the television show itself, perhaps, than that other goofy Japanese import), its “borrowings” are simply poor reflections of a few of the aspects of much better games. What good moments the game does have — some of the aforementioned campy presentation of the “seriousness” of chefs doing “battle” in a kitchen stadium like they are gladiators or samurai and the often amusing banter of the judges that taste your food — sadly also become less amusing since the limited recorded dialogue that goes along with each “episode” (or “level” in gamer speak) is looped often enough to become redundant after a few battles.
While this is a budget title, your thirty bucks would be better spent picking up a used copy of Cooking Mama. Plus, you’d probably have saved twenty of those bucks to pick up some KFC on the way home. You won’t actually be cooking that evening after all; it will only feel like you are. So, somebody should do the real work.