Version tested: DS
You don't have to scroll down any further than this to know that at least one of the games in this roundup is destined for a date with direness. Dip your hand in any random pile of DS games and 75 per cent of the time you're going to be grabbing hold of something unpleasantly squishy. Perhaps that's why this set of reviews contains two games that aren't actual games. Good old lifestyle software, the result of the DS's immense popularity with people who don't traditionally fall into the gamer bracket. And, surprisingly, one of them is rather good. Who'd have thought? Don't worry there's the traditional roundup stinker in here as well. Who are we to disappoint?
Cooking Guide: Can't Decide What To Eat?
- Developer: Nintendo
- Publisher: Nintendo
A portable electronic recipe guide seems a great idea on the surface, although the reality could be remarkably worse. Recipe books and cookery shows are ten a penny these days and any greedy publisher could slap Jamie Oliver's mug on a menu screen, list fifteen pages of pasta dishes and release 'Jamie's Pukka Pasta' for thirty quid (note to greedy publishers: please don't do this).
Mercifully, Cooking Guide is a lot more comprehensive than that. It's the latest in a torrent of non-gaming Touch! Generations titles designed to capitalise on the catch-all popularity of the DS. It was originally released in Japan some time back, although this version's been localised to include dishes better suited to Western palates. Of all the 245 dishes on offer, the game will talk you through each step in precise detail from start to finish. For nervous beginners, it's not afraid to explain the simplest of steps like finely chopping onions or boiling pasta in more detail either. At every point, it's prepared to offer a guiding hand and a full, concise guide of techniques, tools and food used is readily available, offering words, pictures and even a few short videos to demonstrate how to do some of the trickier things required.
The proof is in the pudding, however, or rather the meal I prepared with the guide's help to see how well it worked. There's some pretty tasty dishes in here and a pan-global cuisine of Hainanese chicken rice from China and a side dish of Italian peperoni marinati washed down with lassi, a yoghurt drink from India went down well with the other half, even if Gordon Ramsay probably would have balked at the assorted combination. Dessert didn't turn out quite so well. Most of the sweet Thai dish of sakoo paik went straight in the bin after the tapioca-based pudding ended up resembling something with the taste and consistency of watery mucus. Although, I don't think I can entirely blame the software for that one.
The few criticisms I can level at it are that the hands-free voice recognition it utilises to move onto the next step often failed to pick up the sound of my voice telling it to proceed while still managing to interpret the clanging of pots and pans as such. And if you're planning to cook more than one dish in its repertoire at once, there's no easy way to flick between them in order to get them all ready at the same time. You can save your position at any point but only once and backing out of a recipe into another manually can be fiddly. Perhaps that's asking too much, though. This is a well-made package that takes advantage of the handheld's capabilities as much as you could hope any interactive recipe guide would.
- Developer: Natsume
- Publisher: Rising Star Games
Your sister has fallen into a deep sleep, unable to wake, and only a scale from the mythical River King fish can cure her. Well, that's what it looks like to you. More likely she's making it all up in the hope of spending a few days free of your character's unhealthy obsession to fish the rivers dry.
Harvest Fishing, better known internationally as River King: Mystic Valley, part of the Legend of the River King series, is Natsume's side dish to its better regarded Harvest Moon games. Like its companions, it takes a peaceful, non-combat approach to the RPG. This is a world in which the answer to all your problems is fish: collect ten fish and the ogre will speak to you, find five carp and the weasel gardener will chop down those impassable weeds, and so on. These people love their fish.
The backbone of the game, the fishing, is easily accomplished by pressing A to cast your rod in the water and waiting for a nibble. Once you get a bite, the screen switches to a view of the fish and you circle the screen with the stylus to reel it in, stopping now and then to relieve the tension on the line. It's as serviceable a method as you could hope for. However the technique never, ever changes. From the lowliest minnow to the biggest trout and beyond, you're doing almost the exact same thing each time. Different baits don't appear to have any discernible difference nor is there a noticeable advance in skills elsewhere. There's nothing that would add a frisson of excitement to landing a big catch beyond having to spend a bit more time reeling it in.
The meagre adventure that frames the fishy action is a far less regimented affair than Harvest Moon ever was. You wander around talking to the occasional person until they land you with a task to help get you past the next obstacle, or feed your fish-loving pet until it's able to perform certain skills that help you out. Beyond that, most of what's required is to fill up your basket with the fish you've caught and trade them in for collector's cards. It eventually becomes a mind-numbing task for the even the hardiest stalwart of angling.
The serene nature of the game may be relaxing, but it's too simple and ultimately repetitive above all things. While the story mode is relatively short and generous in opening up new areas fairly quickly, fishing these days is far better suited to mini-game distractions in bigger titles than something like this.