ROMper ROOM: Cooking goes from virtual to hands-on

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Families get a hand-held and hands-on look into the world of cuisine with What’s Cooking? Jamie Oliver (for DS from Atari, $29.99). Bringing in the personality of the “Naked Chef,” this interactive cooking trainer features a cookbook-size serving of Mr. Oliver’s recipes.

The program’s best feature is an interactive cookbook containing more than 100 original recipes from Mr. Oliver’s signature, fresh-ingredient dishes. What makes these recipes extra special is the cookbook’s interactivity. Filter the list by starters, desserts and entrees. Further refine the list by food categories, i.e., vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, dairy and so on.

Next, choose a recipe and view photographer David Loftus’ pictures and read the ingredient list and preparation method. The DS’ screens switch the photos with the recipe while the prep instructions are below.

You can use the stylus to move through the preparation instructions, but when actually cooking, What’s Cooking? can change pages using the voice-activated commands “next” or “previous.” It takes a little programming and it’s worth it.

Like the recipe? When it’s time to take the dish from the virtual world to the family kitchen, the software offers a bit of shopping help by adding the recipe’s ingredients to a mobile shopping list.

Easily reviewed, the list of items already in your kitchen can be checked off, then the list can be filtered to group like items together for easier shopping. Take the DS to the market and tick off the items as you add them to your cart.

The other main component of What’s Cooking combines virtual mixing and mashing for a bit of game-playing fun. Virtual chefs prepare some of the same recipes found in the program’s interactive cookbook, but race against clock to create some of Mr. Oliver’s recipes before the timer dings.

As cooking challenges are completed, new kitchen styles, related recipes and new ingredients are opened, increasing the number of recipes in the cookbook.

The cooking challenges are a great way for the at-home chef or parent to get a good idea of how the various dishes are put together. It also sneaks in some educational moments for youngsters.

Young cooks learn how to follow directions and even practice reading and comprehension skills. Math skills are honed when measuring out ingredients, doubling or reducing a recipe, all of which include the very practical application of fractions.

During the action, the touch screen shows you what you are working on - the top of the stove, a cutting board, the prep area, etc. Across the top of the screen, touch an icon to open the pantry to get food supplies and cooking tools, bowls, plates, pots and pans.

Drag dirty dishes to the sink, combine ingredients in the prep area, chop on the block, turn on the heat of the stove or set the baking timer.

Items that need to be kept cold can be stored in the refrigerator, and as you create your recipe, the stylus is used to drag items from one kitchen area to the next. For example, dredge prawns in flour at the prep area, pull them into the stove icon to cook in the pan that already has been brought out of the pantry icon and dragged to the stove.

True to kitchens everywhere, a great soundtrack can enhance any cooking experience. The What’s Cooking? kitchen features a radio with volume controls to handle a dozen or so tunes.

What’s Cooking? also lets users get creative, offering the ability to store up to 100 additional recipes. Users can add new ingredients to the shopping list utility, and new utensils and directions to the games memory.

Those recipes can be shared with friends over a wireless connection (when they have a DS and the What’s Cooking? game) or taken to grandma’s house when it’s time to help cook a holiday dinner.

Game Bytes

Here’s an abbreviated look at some multimedia titles for the entire family.

Bolt (for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Disney Interactive Studios, $49.99) - The barrage of licensed movie games continues with a third-person adventure tied to Disney’s latest computer-animated film and its superpowered pooch.

Thankfully, the action ignores the star’s self-awakening as just an average mutt actor starring in a television show. Rather, the show becomes the gaming plot for the dog and his trusted owner Penny to save her father and the world and stop the evil Dr. Calico.

The player controls each character as they separately lay a swath of destruction from Belize to Russia and litter the ground with Calico’s minions.

The pooch’s powers often are reduced to a button-mashing frenzy as he attacks and bounces off enemies. The player also unleashes some super barks, laser heat vision and super stomps.

Penny’s missions are more vintage Lara Croft. She spends time sliding and swinging through environments and sneaking up on foes before delivering a big hurt via a multifunctional wheel bar.

Bolt, the game, looks pretty, mixes a variety of gaming genres and offers lots of colorful combat. Parents who stop by to watch might get sucked into the computer hacker minigames that mix hover tanks with classic arcade shooters.

Unfortunately, the game’s repetitive battles and mind-numbing waves of cartoony violence won’t inspire the tween demographic.

Chrono Trigger (for DS, Square Enix, $39.99) - A classic role-playing game for the Super NES system returns for Nintendo’s magical hand-held system to capture a new generation of fans.

The epic story follows the time-traveling adventures of swashbuckler Chrono and his eclectic crew (remember the sword-wielding frog?) as they journey to the past and future to save the world.

Turn-based - but fast-paced - battles, major resource management, character interaction and a treasure chest’s worth of quests all lead to a time-consuming adventure through the 16-bit, vibrant universe.

The DS’ stylus and touch screen are now used to control characters and configure resources. I prefer the directional pad to get around (still an option), thank you. However, the ability to click and choose battle actions is much more engaging, especially with the top screen used to display the results.

New to the game is a Pokemon-style creature trainer. Players can raise beasts then battle them in an arena. Three others using the DS’ wireless mode can participate, but each trainer must have a game card.

Dragon Ball manga and anime fans will recognize the art style of legendary designer Akira Toriyama and appreciate the included miniposter in the package.

The nostalgia trip might be a bit harsh on the eyes for older players (wow, that type is small) but once they hear the fantastic musical score by Yasunori Mitsuda, it will be just like 1995 all over again.

* 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@ washingtontimes.com.

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