This Week in Games
Mama Said Cook You Out

by Heidi Kemps,

We start today with some sad news: the passing of voice actor Keiji Fujiwara at the tragically young age of 55. Fujiwara's body of work is vast, including fan-favorite roles like Hughes in Fullmetal Alchemist and Holland in Eureka 7, but some of his most-known roles come from video games: Reno in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and the recent FFVII Remake, Ardyn in Final Fantasy XV, Axel in Kingdom Hearts, and Homare Nishitani in Yakuza 0. If you've heard him in these roles, you know just how much life and energy he put into his work. He will be greatly missed.

Last week, I talked a bit about the difficulties Japanese arcades are facing in staying afloat. Well, they're not alone – arcades across the world, including the popular arcade-bar hybrid businesses that have long been cropping up in cities across North America and Europe, are all feeling the crunch – as are other communal gaming spaces. It's more than just video games: hangouts for boardgames, trading card games, role-playing sessions, and VR centers are all hurting.

It's a crappy situation all around, but as awareness rises, more and more folks are looking for ways to help out. My e-pal GSK (whose Twitter you should definitely follow if you're into niche Japanese gaming) has set up a Google Map featuring a global list of arcades and gaming spaces that are looking for your support. Perhaps there's one in your neighborhood that you know of that isn't on there? Let him know.

Well, this week we'll be looking at a couple of newsbits, but mostly focusing on one of the more bizarre game industry stories that's emerged in the hell-year that is 2020. Let's dig in…

COOKING MAMA COOKSTAR IS A MESS OF RUMORS AND DRAMA

If you would have told me in January that a Cooking Mama game would become a much-talked-about speculative collector's item due to a maelstrom of rumors and legal drama, I would have laughed. Yet somehow, this wild industry keeps on making the absolute most bizarre things happen.

Cooking Mama, for those unaware, is a series of videogames by Japanese developer Office Create where a bubbly, smiling lady guides you through the process of cooking virtual food through a succession of brief mini-games. The series hit it big on the DS and Wii, where the combination of widely-appealing theme, colorful and happy visuals, and well-implemented touch and motion controls made it a smash hit, particularly in North America, where Cooking Mama helped keep beleaguered publisher Majesco afloat for a few more years.

Though the series still carries a lot of nostalgia among folks who grew up with it, the 2010s saw a marked decrease in Cooking Mama releases: the last main numbered game was 2014's Cooking Mama 5, while a spinoff called Cooking Mama Sweet Shop released on the 3DS in 2017. In 2019, it was revealed that a new Cooking Mama was in the works from publisher Planet Entertainment. And in 2020, Cooking Mama Cookstar was released…. Sort of.

It all began when the game materialized – and just as quickly dematerialized – from the Nintendo eShop late last month, with a few physical copies showing up in stores as well. A handful of folks were able to obtain it during this period and noticed that the game seemed to run hotter and eat Switch battery somewhat faster than expected.

Not long after, somebody dug up an old press release that had this PR nugget in it:

Blockchain! Yeah, that's what gets all the kiddies and big-money tech investors excited, right? Unfortunately, this quickly ballooned into a rumor that the game ate battery because it was running a secret cryptocurrency mining program in the background. Which… isn't completely ridiculous, because there have been PC games that attempted to do just that. This was quashed pretty quickly, with tech folks pointing out that the Switch doesn't really have the power to do serious crypto mining, and that shit would never fly past Nintendo certification anyway.

So then, what's the deal with Cookstar? A Screenrant interview with an anonymous individual from developer 1st Playable Productions (who were subcontracted to create the game by publisher/licensee Planet Entertainment) sheds some light on things. It's a great piece filled with fascinating anecdotes showcasing just how incompetent Planet Entertainment is, so do read it if you have a moment, but to sum things up: Office Create licensed the Cooking Mama name to Planet Entertainment, who saw easy dollar signs, then contracted a fairly inexperienced development team to make the game. When Office Create was checking on the in-development title, they weren't satisfied, asking if the game could be changed or possibly even cancelled, to which Planet said “haha no” and shoved them out the door. Office Create then went to Nintendo to have Cookstar pulled.

The piece also reveals what's up with the blockchain thing (it was corporate BS to attract investors and no such thing's in Cookstar) and why the game doesn't run all that well (the developers were inexperienced using Unity and Cookstar’s rather unoptimized as a result). Reading this, it's clear to me that Planet Entertainment are pretty shady folks – they grabbed Cooking Mama's license from Office Create with dollar-signs in their eyes, foisted it onto an inexperienced development team with a shoestring budget, and ignored their licensor's demands in favor of just putting the game out and trying to squeeze as much money as they could from it.

Now, it seems, things are getting particularly hot in the Cooking Mama kitchen: Office Create said it will be mulling legal action against Planet Entertainment (who, by the way, also announced a PS4 version without Office Create's approval), while Planet Entertainment has fired back alleging that they did nothing in breach of contract. Going from Cookstar’s awful Metacritic ranking, Office Create certainly seems to be morally in the right here, but ultimately it comes down to how the contracts are worded. I'm definitely watching this one with popcorn in hand.

So yeah, there's a good chance that Cooking Mama Cookstar might never be properly released beyond the few digital and physical copies already out there, and collectors are already speculating that it's going to be a high-value collectors’ piece like the infamously released-then-cancelled NBA Elite 11. Even so, you might want to wait and see how the case plays out before buying 100 copies of Cookstar to get graded and plastic-slabbed.

EUROPE'S GAMESCOM IS GOING ALL ONLINE THIS YEAR

E3 might be a complete bust this year, but there's another summer gaming show that tends to bring announcements and hype: Gamescom! Located in Cologne, Germany, Gamescom is the gaming show to attend if you're in Europe, as it features a mix of both business and open-to-the-public days where folks can get hands-on time with upcoming games. Assuming they're willing to brave the lines, that is: Gamescom typically brings in about 370,000 people over the course of the event!

Of course, when you're looking at a gathering of that size, any concept of “social distancing” flies out the window. Gamescom 2020 was scheduled for August 25-29, but with uncertainty over how long COVID-19's going to be lingering (and Germany banning large gatherings through the end of August), the organizers have cancelled this year's event. Unlike E3, however, Gamescom is going to be putting on a massive online digital event instead!

If you're bummed about E3 not happening this year, this should be very good news, as I think a lot of E3 announcements will be shifted to Gamescom instead. (Being in August allows more time to polish up those next-gen game demos!) With a lot of companies dropping or reducing their E3 presence, I think Gamescom is in the position to become the big yearly global gaming convention in the future, and steps like this definitely help in building goodwill.

RESIDENT EVIL 4 REMAKE RUMORS A-ROAMING

CAPCOM sure did well with that Resident Evil 2 remake, and the RE3 remake has been pretty warmly received as well! And where there's good critical and sales reception, there's plenty more money to be made!

A story from Video Games Chronicle has CAPCOM working with development partner M-Two (who are different from beloved retrogaming porting house M2, just to put that out there) to do a full-on remake of Resident Evil 4. M-Two, which was established by ex-CAPCOM and ex-Platinumgames veteran Tatsuya Minami, worked on the RE3 remake and has been rumored to be heavily involved with RE-related projects since inception.

Upon the news coming out, a good chunk of gaming internet collectively said… “why?” And I have to agree – Resident Evil 4 is a game that pioneered a new age of third-person action games, and has aged significantly better than many of its peers. Remaking RE4 is like making a Chess 2 – there's no need for it at all. I definitely feel for the folks who are like “why not Code Veronica instead?” because damn, that game doesn't get any love from CAPCOM these days.

But looking at it from a business perspective, RE4 is the most popular installment of CAPCOM's most popular franchise. A new version of RE4 will undoubtedly sell extremely well and make lots of money. At the risk of sounding cynical… That's So CAPCOM.

Yeah, if these rumors have any truth to them, we'll probably hear something at Gamescom. But I certainly don't blame you if you can't get as hyped for this as RE2 or RE3.

JUMP FORCE IS GETTING MORE CHARACTERS AND COMING TO SWITCH AS JUMP FORCE DELUXE EDITION

… okay, serious question, does anyone care about Jump Force anymore? Be honest. Every bit of news I see about Jump Force is filled with people who feel like they got burned by the game. There has to still be an audience for this, right? Otherwise they wouldn't be keeping at it…

Alrighty! Jeez, there's so much weirdness in gaming these days. What do you think of the RE rumors? Are you cool with an RE4 remake, or should CAPCOM leave it alone and look at other RE installments to spruce up? Are you looking forward to Gamescom now? Join the conversation below in the forums, and I'll see you all again next week!


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