The Food Network has built its success on a combination of celebrity chefs and shows that make seemingly intimidating cuisine accessible to the average viewer. As the first game bearing the Food Network title, Cook or Be Cooked focuses on the latter half of that formula. It doesn't feature any famous chefs like Emeril Lagasse pumping up an audience with catchphrase upon catchphrase, but it does offer a fun course in cooking techniques using simple, mostly intuitive motion controls. As you prepare, cook, and serve a variety of appetizing meals, two of the network's lesser-known personalities keep you invested in what's going on with a constant stream of feedback and interesting details about what you're making. A limited selection of recipes significantly hampers its value, but Cook or Be Cooked is nonetheless a game that will leave you eager to test out what you've learned in a real kitchen.
Completed meals wind up looking quite appetizing, including this grilled ahi delight.
Serving up the perfect meal in Cook or Be Cooked is a process that requires equal parts motion controls and careful planning. You start each meal with basic preparations, such as chopping vegetables, pouring ingredients into a mixing bowl, or coating a pan with olive oil. These tasks are executed with simple gestures like swiping down with the Wii Remote to mimic a knife's chop, twisting it in circles to mix ingredients, and tilting it in multiple directions to let the oil flow evenly to uncoated areas of a pan. For the most part, these controls are extremely easy, but the way the game combines these motions to convey the sensation of a meal coming together bit by bit keeps you feeling like your work is really building up to something.
Adding some strategy to those breezy motion controls is the timing system. Each meal consists of multiple dishes, most of which have to be served up nice and hot. That means you need to plan ahead and pace your cooking so that the hot dishes all finish up at roughly the same time, making sure nothing gets cold on the serving plate while you finish up the rest of the meal. This keeps you thoroughly invested in your preparations, leaving you alert and focused on all the timers. There's also a scoring system that judges your technique and measurements at every turn, ranging from how quickly you can peel and dice garlic to how quickly you take pancakes off the griddle once they turn that perfect shade of golden brown. Much of this comes in the form of quick little pop-ups telling you how slow or great something was, though you'll also hear the game's two hosts offering you constructive, mostly interesting feedback and eventually a final analysis on the finished meal. That this wait for judgment can often feel quite nerve-wracking says a lot about how invested you become in these meals.
This scoring system does a nice job of alleviating the tedium of basic tasks and making you feel attached to the food, but the system isn't without its faults. It will score you on everything you do, and that comprehensiveness can feel downright absurd at times. Having a host tell you that the speed at which you punch in numbers on a microwave could "use some work" or getting negative feedback for adding pasta to boiling water a half second too late goes a long way toward ruining the illusion of being in a kitchen. Likewise, contrived minigames like the rhythm challenge required to assemble a pan of lasagna also help to ruin that sense of immersion.