Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review: Nintendo DS Personal Trainer – Cooking

Can a video game teach you to cook? Maybe. Although it was built for the Nintendo DS, Personal Trainer – Cooking isn't really a game. It's an electronic recipe book filled with tips and techniques, and it's pretty darn fun to use.

As a foodie, and a lover of cool toys, Personal Trainer – Cooking has a lot going for it:

1. 245 excellent recipes from the Tsuji Cooking Academy, categorized by type and country or origin.
2. A great search feature, allowing you to find recipes by ingredients, equipment requirements, or keywords.
3. A built in kitchen timer that's tied into each recipe.

Outside of the recipes, there's a “Cooking A-Z” reference section that includes information covering:
  • ingredients
  • ingredient substitutions
  • utensils
  • ingredient preparation directions including directions for cutting and chopping
  • and lots more cooking information, including some video examples.

Another cool feature is the shopping list. If you find a recipe you want to make, you can check off the ingredients you don't have, and it will keep a shopping list to remind you to pick up those ingredients the next time you go to the grocery store.

Using the recipes is fun, and informative. Each one takes you, step by step, through the dish - from checking the ingredients, making sure you have the needed kitchen equipment, prepping the ingredients, and so on until it's done. The program will even adjust the ingredient quantities for you, depending on how many servings you want to make.

Personal Trainer – Cooking also takes advantage of the microphone built into the Nintendo DS. When you're ready to move on to the next step, you just have to say, “Continue.” If you need to go back and review, just say “Last Step.” If you need to review the step you're on, just say “Review” and it will repeat it for you. It even keeps track of the recipes you've made, when you made them, and how many times you made each recipe to date.

With all of these wonderful things going for it, you'd think I'd like Personal Trainer – Cooking it more than I do. I do like it, don't get me wrong. I think Nintendo is breaking new ground with this title. Like most things, though, there are some things that I think could have worked better.

First is the voice recognition system. It's not bad, as long as the room is very quiet and you're relatively close to the DS. To avoid spilling things on my DS, I decided to place it away from my workspace, meaning I had to walk back and forth a lot for instruction. Also, I have children. That means my house is never quiet until late at night when they're all in bed. I can't count the times it couldn't understand me saying “Continue” (it actually asks you, “What do you mean?”) and yet would happily go back or review when it heard my girls playing in the living room. That meant that I was pushing the buttons - or worse, the touch screen - with hands laced by flour or other ingredients, far more often that I would have liked.

The video tips are actually quite good, but the screen is very small. To save space, there's a lot of video edits that makes some of the videos less helpful than they could be. Some of them gave me the feeling of, “Start out like this and then, a miracle happens!” because of the parts they cut for time and space. There were also some techniques that I thought could use a video, but didn't have one, and some that really didn't need one, but did.

As cool as the shopping list function sounds, it's not practical. Many of the ingredients are exotic enough to not be found in my local grocery, and there are some staple ingredients that just aren't used in the recipes, and so aren't available in the list. This makes it only useful as a reminder for some ingredients when you make out the real grocery list.

The last problem I had was the timer. It's a good electronic timer that will set itself according to the recipe you're on. The problem is you can't use it unless the DS is in full power-up mode. I don't like leaving my DS plugged in, or just open and running by itself, for very long. It just seems like a waste of energy if I'm not playing with it. Shutting the DS puts it into low power mode, but that only stops the timer from running.

Still, the recipes are pretty spectacular. I'm not sure how many of them are good for beginning cooks, but the ones I've tried are excellent. My kids think so, too. They had a great time making their own personal Pizza Margheritas.

I wouldn't recommend going out and buying a Nintendo DS just to have Personal Trainer – Cooking. If you like to cook, though, and you already have a Nintendo DS, you'll probably enjoy it. You'll have a lot of fun and you may even learn a few things about cooking. Just don't get the idea that this will be a replacement for your other cookbooks.

3 zucchinis


BabbleStorm Meteorologist said...

I think this is a great idea! When my son wakes up and notices his DS is in the living room and the batteries are dead, I can tell him it was because I was cooking, rather than because I was playing Advance Wars all night!

Nazarina A said...

I saw one advertisement like this one. Thanks for the detailed info on this one. I love all these gadgets as well. Have fun with them!

John Newman said...

Thanks BableStorm and Nazarina. I was looking through the recipes in it today. I'm making some French bread so I can try the French Onion Soup recipe tomorrow.