Imagine: Happy Cooking
My, Ubisoft has been busy releasing casual games for the DS recently. Following hot on the heels of a series of brain trainers, this one was released very much on the down-low, the first of a low-budget 'Imagine' series of games about cooking, fashion and cute little animals, and appears to have been picked up for distribution on the cheap from somewhere Far Eastern. Admittedly this particular line of games was not designed to come under the scrutiny of a mainstream audience, but having once been one, I feel that little girls deserve good games too.
Imagine: Happy Cooking is a version of Cooking Mama wherein the characters never shut up. You have to tap through reams and reams of by-the-numbers dialogue - acted out by strange, Korean-looking wonky cartoon characters, without the usual bonus of amusingly poor translations - before you get to cook anything, and there's usually a whole lot of chat in-between recipes too. It follows the Cooking Mama formula of different steps in each cooking task, but slows things down by making you choose the right cooking implements beforehand. There's no room for imagination, except in the garnishing step, and even that's graded according to some random invisible system -anything more extravagant than a single sprig of parsley usually earns you minus points. It's colourfully presented and passably executed, but, like Cake Mania, it's lacking in inspiration, and the fact that Cooking Mama has done it all before definitely counts against it.
If you have a little girl who's been bored of Nintendogs for a while now, for God's sake get her Mario or Phantom Hourglass or something similarly stimulating and worthwhile, not this depressing, mildly exploitative, focus-group-designed shelf-filler. It's not a terrible game, but it's the ideas behind these market-researched casual games that make me balk. This might keep your daughter happy for an hour or so, but she deserves better.
Touch Detective 2
How the original Touch Detective escaped Eurogamer's critical eye is beyond me. It's exactly the sort of odd, well-written Japanese import that typically gladdens the hearts of this site's contributors, specifically those of us with a weakness for handheld adventure delights. Touch Detective leans more towards 'classic' point-and-click than Phoenix Wright, bringing with it the classic pixel-hunting, back-tracking and illogical puzzles that sometimes define the genre, but it's a considerable improvement upon the first, and it feels a little hollow to criticise an adventure game for, well, being an adventure game. That said, Touch Adventure's puzzles are sometimes obscure almost to the point of parody - you wonder whether the game is taking the piss out of itself as well as you.
Touch Detective 2 continues the adventures of Mackenzie, a pint-sized detective struggling to achieve recognition in the field. She handles a variety of increasingly insane cases - without wanting to spoil anything, the first involves investigating who has stolen the colour from her friend's pink noodles - in an excellently-designed, completely bonkers world that reminds me of Gregory Horror Show for some reason. Touch Detective's excellent music and visual style complement a selection of well-written, unfailingly amusing characters and situations. Where the bottom screen shows what's actually going on, the top shows Mackenzie's thoughts, accompanied by ever-changing facial expressions, which both add colour to proceedings and often provide handy hints - Touch Detective 2 is considerably less difficult than its predecessor, and the intended path is often slightly easier to pick out, if no less random.
The only issue here is that though Touch Detective 2 is better than the original, it does assume prior knowledge to an extent. It's kind enough to ask you at the beginning if you ever played the first game, but I'm not sure how your answer actually influences proceedings - there are numerous in-jokes and running references that shoot straight over the heads of uninitiated players. Nevertheless, this is a meaty (ten hours!), funny and very well-presented adventure title with superb aesthetics, and despite its zany-for-the-sake-of-it puzzle design, it will find a place in the heart of any fan of the genre.