Mama is a helpful little gal. And she's been as busy as all get out lately. Since she and her first popular culinary sim, Cooking Mama, hit the Wii and DS in 2006, the twinkle-eyed "mother" has worked her way through several cooking sequels and a number of spinoffs, too, including a babysitting game, a gardening game and a camping game. She does her best work, however, in the kitchen.
Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic is designed specifically for younger kids (and not just girls!) who want some simple 3DS screen-tapping fun that's never messy except for the grits and gravy and grease that might get on the virtual floor. In Let's Cook mode, Mama leads players through 50-plus recipes that range from all-American yummies like corn dogs and apple pie to a collection of Japanese dishes including umeboshi and yakitori. Never mind the exotic names, though, putting these meals together is as simple as, um, pie.
Each recipe is made up of a series of minigames that are, in essence, a gamification of what a budding cook might actually do in the galley. As the ingredients are sliced, diced, stirred, kneaded, tossed or swirled, gamers tap and stroke the 3DS screen with the stylus. And it all comes down to a matter of timing: The game unit's microphone and internal gyroscope come into play as you crack eggs, flip pans, balance plates and more.
When you mess up, you find out that Mama is a forgiving sort. Even if you burn the toast, turn the corn dogs into flaming shish kebabs or bonk Mama in the head with a flying egg, she'll comfort you with a sweet, "It's OK, Mama will help you." If you succeed with creating a tasty dish, her eyes will sparkle, and she'll happily hug you with a "Better than Mama!" that's filled with all the proud sweetness of a hundred cheesecakes. (She doles out bronze, silver and gold medals when the assigned recipe reaches its final mouth-watering stage.)
Other modes combine already mastered dishes to unlock new tasty plates. And kids can compete against friends via Wi-Fi. Let's Help mode sends them off to take out the garbage, do a little dusting and other household chores—things they're sure to be much more willing to do digitally than around your real house!