- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2008

Culinary entrepreneurs virtually hone cooking skills while managing restaurants in Order Up! (Zoo Games and SuperVillain Studios, for Wii, $39.99).

As a budding chef, the player is airdropped onto the mythical island of Port Abello and works his way up from fast food flunky to an “Iron Chef”-style superstar. The adventure begins at Burger Face, a grease pit that allows the player to learn the fundamentals of virtual cooking.

Of course with the Wii, the wireless, motion-sensing Wiimote is the chef’s universal tool. He can slice, dice, mix and chop with the appropriate movement of the controller.

For example, to prepare a simple hamburger plate, he’ll need to fry and flip a patty (the “B” trigger pulls up a spatula that requires a sharp tug upward), tear lettuce (point, tug and swipe to the right), cut up a tomato (quick up and down motion while holding a virtual knife) and drop and retrieve french fries from a deep fryer (use “B” again to grab the handle and drop or pull up).

With an understanding of the basics, the chef moves on to open his own establishment, the Gravy Chug, featuring fine American diner cuisine.

Of course, as a fledgling restaurateur and chef, life gets infinitely more difficult. In addition to the increased complexity of food preparation, from country-fried steak to French onion soup, the player now must cater to finicky customers and simultaneously prepare multiple dishes.

As he completes orders and waiters deliver the food to hungry patrons, cash is amassed, especially with help from tips, which are larger for quick service and perfectly prepared dishes.

With money in hand, the player can hire assistants (each offers a different level of skill sets), buy better equipment and more exotic food items, and clean up his establishment.

All action in the kitchen is timed or graded and is clearly monitored with meters, so chefs don’t want to overcook a steak (he can throw it out and start over) or let a finished dish sit out for pickup until it gets cold.

Accomplishments lead to opening better restaurants including Italian, Mexican and fine dining at its highest level with access to more than 80 recipes.

Patrons can be a finicky lot. A host of humorous regulars such as Maria Papita Rosita and Count Steakula visit and appreciate the use of spices (bought at the local farmer’s market) or specially cooked items.

On the spice front, chefs have six types (from salt to onion powder) they can apply to food elements and are richly rewarded for adding the correct combinations in the custom dishes.

The list of chores, at points, seems endless. Reading comment cards, dealing with the health inspector (he watches you clean dishes in a minigame), pleasing the dreaded food critic and keeping the staff alert and busy, to name a few.

Although catering to the same patrons and the creation of the same dishes can get repetitive at times, I say welcome to the real world, bud. How many times in any given day does a real chef have to make up a batch of calamari or another bowl of chili?

Overall, Order Ups’ cartoony presentation is packed with kooky characters and enough gastronomical goodness for the player to gleefully consume.

Learning time: Although the player can’t go from performing in Order Up! to actually cooking, he does come away with a good understanding of the minutia of food preparation, the importance of teamwork, an exposure to multitasking, the value of duty delegation and some of the responsibility involved in owning a restaurant.

It would have been nice if the game had a resource of actual recipes for players to bring into their kitchens, but I guarantee anyone in the room watching the action will have a short list of ideas ready to challenge the real chef in the family.

Age range: All family members 8 years old and older interested in food and not in the mind-set of having to shoot or blow something up

Final advice: Fans of Cooking Mama and Diner Dash will find Order Up! to be a perfect blend of both. Those unaware of the cooking genre of video games will be pleasantly surprised by the frenetic, hands-on fun.

GAME BYTES

Here’s an abbreviated look at some multimedia items for the entire family:

Beijing 2008 (for Xbox 360, Sega, $49.99) — How better to experience the summer Olympic Games than by virtually taking part in the festivities? Through more than three dozen events, players exhaust their thumbs and index fingers tackling a familiar set of sporting challenges in a game that encompasses much of the action from Beijing.

Every challenge, from table tennis to the parallel bars to the 100-meter freestyle and even skeet shooting, comes alive as Sega has created a nice-looking simulation highlighted with expressive character models and real locations such as China’s National Aquatics Center.

For the solo player, the ability to create a customized team of athletes from more than 30 countries and work through a daily schedule of events will maintain interest. The incessant button mashing and tapping combined with frustratingly difficult qualifying rounds could quickly break the player’s spirit, however.

The star of the show is the multiplayer option as up to eight friends online (when the broadband gods are focused upon them) or four off-line can compete.

Suffice to report, this style of the game cries out for the aerobics of Wii, but I’m fine with comfortably reclining on a sofa, strategically near the Nacho Cheese Doritos, while I control my weight lifter to sweat for the gold.

My Meebas (from Mattel, stand-alone product, $19.99, requires two AAA batteries, included) — The virtual pet species continues to survive in toy land, and Mattel’s latest evolution targets girls in love with stuffed animals and casual video gaming.

Similar to the style of the Tamagochi, owners get a palm-held device that uses three buttons to manipulate action on a 1-inch-wide, black-and-white LCD screen. Within a bubbling, underwater terrain, they control a waterdrop-shaped organism and watch it evolve.

Tender-loving care — i.e., feeding and playing with it — along with playing 20 games earns a player hearts that can be redeemed and cause the Meeba to grow. Challenges include a pachinko-style marble puzzle, a version of the shell game and even a bit of Space Invaders (the Meeba spits at targets).

The cool part is the virtual pet device is attached to and slides up and down a tube the size of a soda can. The LCD environment actually changes as it moves, simulating looking into the tube. Even cooler, once the Meeba reaches full size, the tube opens and a plush version of the character can be added to a child’s collection.

Parental warnings fall under the category of collecting frenzy as 60 different My Meebas are available. At $20 a pop, that’s one expensive hatchery for the enamored child.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washington times.com.

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