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Review: 'Cooking Mama' Game Delicious, but Not Very Filling

At first bite, "Cooking Mama" is a gourmet meal at a five-star restaurant.

But be careful: too much of this delightful new culinary video game might give you an upset stomach.

No real-world food skills are required in this E-rated, $19.99 Nintendo DS game from Japan. Anyone who can boil a pot of water or open a milk carton will find "Cooking Mama" an immediate pleasure that's hard to put down initially.

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It makes good use of the DS touch screen as you prepare one of 76 different recipes.

Some, like pizza or Salisbury steak, will be instantly familiar to Western palates. But many are straight out of the "Iron Chef" television show with specialties like fried octopus dumplings or grilled gyoza stuffed with cabbage and meat.

The goal of "Cooking Mama" is to correctly prepare ingredients and then quickly cook the meal. Each task serves as a microgame that's very similar to Nintendo's "WarioWare" series.

Do well and you'll get a gold star and a beaming smile from saucer-eyed Mama. But she can turn hateful with a slip of a knife: even a few ill-timed egg cracks and she'll stare you down with flaming eyes.

Some dishes require you to blow into the microphone, but mostly you'll be using the DS' plastic stylus to simulate slicing, peeling, stirring, kneading, deep frying and sauteing, among other things.

This variety of tasks keeps the game light and fun in brief spurts.

Some are quite hard: I still haven't quite mastered peeling potatoes. This contrasts with stupefyingly simple goals like setting a timer to 30 minutes, then pressing enter.

Anyone with a passing interest in food will enjoy how easy and intuitive it is to play "Cooking Mama."

But like a doughnut, the sugar rush doesn't last long. After a few hours, I was hungering for more to do as the game felt repetitious.

You can also combine dishes (pork curry and rice with grilled mackerel, anyone?) or try to earn a gold star of approval from Mama for every recipe.

What "Cooking Mama" really needs is some sort of wireless multiplayer feature where you can compete in cook-offs with others. Heck, I would have settled for a secret, unlockable dessert menu, which this game completely lacks.

If the developers do make a sequel, hopefully they won't forget to add these features a second time.

Two-and-a-half stars out of four.