Don’t let this image fool you into thinking he’s a nice guy; he made lamb chops that day.
Naturally the term “cooking game” immediately produces cynicism, but there are some examples within the genre that are actually quite decent. Take Personal Trainer: Cooking, a DS title that received generally favourable reviews – Metacritic’s words, not mine. The reviews described it as a polished, useful and informative interactive cookbook. That’s all well and good, but the thing with cooking games like Personal Trainer: Cooking and Cooking Mama is that they’re all fluffy, light and friendly. What’s wrong with that? Well, I think it would be interesting if someone made a cooking game with a bit more grit, with an edge that sweet ol’ Mama just can’t offer; a game that transforms cooking from a life skill into a challenge, throwing players into the chaos of a kitchen, forcing them to prepare food that’s actually edible while somehow placating the impatience of their ravenous guests. In short, what if someone made a game that held true to the phrase “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”? Who could that someone be? Well, it could have been Gordon Ramsay.
Ramsay, leading British chef and celebrity (the two go oddly hand in hand in the UK), and Ubisoft released a video game based on his highly successful TV series Hell’s Kitchen. If you’re not aware of Ramsay, the wee Scot has a notorious TV persona. If I were being polite I’d describe him as hard-hitting and uninhibited in his quest to produce good cooking. If I weren’t I’d say he’s forged his TV career by being a profane, arrogant, and self-satisfied bastard. Smug jerk or not, he does make for great TV.
Sadly, the appeal of his reality TV cook-off show Hell’s Kitchen did not translate into the game. As you’ll ascertain by watching the awful trailer above, the core gameplay is little more than a glorified version of Diner Dash, the simplistic mobile phone game that rode the early waves of the casual boom. You’ll also note the disastrous, constipated CGI representation of Ramsay, one that doesn’t even swear. What’s the point of including a verbally leashed Ramsay? IGN’s Jason Ocampo was particularly damning in his review of the PC version of Hell’s Kitchen; he said that the visuals barely surpassed that of a Flash game, that it was “devoid of fun” and “monotonous”. He closed by saying the repetitive mouse clicking meant the only thing the game produced was a recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome. When the end product of your game is a medical condition, that’s not so good. Does this suggest that the Ramsay experience can’t be translated into a video game? No, it doesn’t. It’s just about picking the right TV series of his to adapt. So, allow me to present my first video game concept: Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares DSi.
Kitchen Nightmares DSi would closely follow the formulaic roots of its televisual father. It would commence with a video of Gordon Ramsay coldly introducing himself to players before asking them what’s going to be on today’s menu. Players would then input via the touch screen the dishes they’re going to cook – and by cook I mean not in the game but in reality. Once that’s done the game would then ask players to input their vital statistics, namely their height, weight, age, nationality, and any other prominent features that can later be cruelly highlighted in an abusive Ramsay tirade. Then players are asked to sit the console near where they’ll cook, so that while they cook their chosen dishes they’ll see an image of Ramsay glaring at them on the top screen, his brow furrowed and forehead vein bulging ostensibly, while on the bottom screen a timer ticks loudly to remind them how ridiculously long they’re taking to cook such a simple dish.
When the meal’s finally prepared, Ramsay would invite players to taste it and then give their honest opinion of it. Two choices would be offered on the touch screen, the first being “very nice”, and the second along the lines of “fucking rubbish,” “worse that what I’d find in a diaper,” “Jesus fucking Christ,” and so on. If players try to select “very nice,” Ramsay would fervidly tell them to stop bullshitting, with advancement only permitted once players admit that their food is shit. This would launch Ramsay into the player-specific abusive tirade – “You fucking fat French furry fuck! You French pig, you fucking pig!”
The next two stages would take further advantage of the DSi’s capabilities. In this, the second stage, Ramsay would ask players to take photos of their kitchen using the camera. The game then analyses these images so that can Ramsay can further abuse you, this time on how fucking dirty your kitchen is. It may be simply “disgusting,” or it could be “You fucking donkey! I’m going to fucking condemn your whole fucking house!” If it’s the latter, then players would have to move into a new home and start the game all over again, offering an exciting element of real risk into the gameplay. Otherwise they would have to clean up the kitchen until Ramsay is finally satisfied with the photos taken. Unfortunately I can forsee wily players getting around this by feeding in images of showroom kitchens. Oh well.
The third stage would make use of the DSi microphone. First Ramsay would further outline all the things players are doing wrong in a vague, degrading and unnecessarily personal way. The aim in this stage is to respond to this abuse in equal measure, with bonus points given for imaginative profanity, a good mix of insults, and for displaying emotional strain. Basically the game rewards players for keeping up with the foul-mouthed chef in an oral bitchslap, with maximum points on offer if you rile Ramsay up enough that he actually turns off the console in a defeated strop. This stage would end with the Scottish hothead outlining his new menu to players; this would involve a trip to Waitrose (definitely not to that fucker Oliver’s Sainsbury’s) to pick the ingredients and at least two copies of each of his cookbooks.
When players returned from Waitrose, the game would demand them to immediately invite friends over to dinner, the dishes selected from the new menu. The number of guests invited would have to be higher than actually feasible for players to cook for. Maybe at this point the game would offer some actual cooking advice to the player – seems a little extraneous for this cooking game. Either way, it would all go splendidly (more forced answers on the parts of the guests) and the game would close with a heavily edited and totally misrepresentative video summarising the events of the playthrough; now the player is transformed into a master-chef, and another kitchen nightmare has been solved. Ramsay drives off into the sunset, Outrun-style.
As Ramsay would say, take that Cooking Mama and shove it up your fucking gigantic arse.