Review: Cute Video Games Aren't Always Good

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"Cute" may be the last adjective that any game publisher would want applied to one of its titles. Take a glance at last year's best-selling games: "Madden," "Gears of War," "Guitar Hero II," "Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter." Not one adorable atom in the bunch.

When your core audience consists of 18- to 25-year-old men, "cute" doesn't sell the way that "intense," "violent" and "raunchy" do. But even the most fanatical "Halo" player needs a break from the bloodshed, and there's no better tonic to hours of mayhem than a few relaxing minutes with "Nintendogs."

Scratch a "Grand Theft Auto" player and you'll find an "Animal Crossing" addict. Show me a "Metroid" master and I'll show you someone with a "Super Monkey Ball" fetish.

Most hardcore gamers won't admit it, but we all enjoy a little bit of cute every now and then.

— "Chulip" (Natsume, for the PlayStation 2, $29.99): Dating simulations are popular in Japan but almost unheard of in the U.S., unless you count Mario's relentless efforts to woo Princess Peach. That makes the English translation of "Chulip" worth checking out, at the very least for its novelty.

You play a poor boy who has just moved to Long Life Town when you meet the girl of your dreams. Your goal, simply enough, is to kiss her — but she won't give it up until you build up your reputation.

Oddly enough, that involves kissing just about everyone else in town, as well as helping out your strange new neighbors.

"Chulip" is strenuously bizarre in that way only the Japanese can pull off. Each of the characters, from the hero's loving dad to the weirdos who live underground, has his own set of quirks, and the missions they send you on are unpredictable.

"Chulip" plays more like an old-school "graphic adventure" (like, say "Grim Fandango") than a modern game, so it may have more appeal for older players.

Beware, though: "Chulip" is pretty hard, and it moves very slowly.

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

— "Cooking Mama: Cook Off" (Majesco, for the Wii, $49.99): Cooking Mama is one of the more endearing video-game characters of recent years — until you screw up one of her carefully orchestrated recipes. Then her eyes blaze with fire and she's still pretty cute.

"Cook Off" is an extension of last year's DS cult hit. Instead of using the DS' precise stylus control, you use the Wii remote to simulate culinary chores: grinding meat, chopping vegetables, stirring sauce and so on.

Usually the controls feel natural, although occasionally (as when you're using the remote as a rolling pin) you have to exaggerate your motions a little too vigorously.

The Wii sequel delivers a much broader range of cuisine, serving up over 300 recipes from 10 countries.

More importantly, it offers terrific multiplayer action, dividing the screen in two so competing chefs can race to assemble the same dish. It's like hosting "Iron Chef" in your own house, and it's fun for players of just about any skill level.

Three stars.

— "Cake Mania" (Majesco, for the DS, $19.99): After a strenuous "Cooking Mama" workout, who wouldn't be in the mood for some dessert?

Unfortunately, "Cake Mania" is a bit too simplistic and repetitious to be really satisfying.

Jill is a young woman who's trying revive her grandparents' bakery by satisfying the sugar cravings of everyone in town.

The routine is simple: Take an order, bake a cake, frost it, decorate it, deliver it and collect your money.

As the bakery gets more popular, the job gets more stressful, with more customers demanding faster services. You can buy extra equipment to improve your efficiency, but the action never really eases up.

The problem with "Cake Mania" is that there's no variety beyond the basic routine. Your chores never get more interesting, you just have to do them more quickly.

It's an amusing casual game, but it's not deep enough to reward continued play.

One-and-a-half stars.