Cooking games are ten-a-penny on DS, and it's all Cooking Mama's fault. See, if she hadn't started off getting youngsters interested in preparing food we never would have wound up here, reviewing Hell's Kitchen VS on DSiWare, and for that Ms Mama can never be forgiven.
Based on the TV series featuring acerbic chef extraordinaire Gordon Ramsay, Hell's Kitchen VS sees you race to prepare different coloured pots of food before sticking them on the hob to heat and eventually serve. It couldn't be easier to control - you tap one of the six sets of ingredient to begin preparing it, then drag the dish over to the hob to begin cooking it. Once the timer on the hob has finished you can tap the saucepan again to plate up, at which point Chef Ramsay either congratulates or berates you according to how many stars you scored for that dish, up to a maximum of four.
The real skill of playing Hell's Kitchen VS, such as it is, lies in being able to multitask and keep an eye on all your dishes to ensure they finish cooking at the same time. Each pan has a number below, indicating how long it will take to cook, so all you have to do is start each dish in the right order and at the right time to get the maximum four stars. Of course, this gets harder as the recipes get more complicated - at the higher levels some dishes require three different ingredients per pan, with three pans per dish, meaning you have to keep a level head and a steady hand to progress.
Or, you know, not. You see, you can prepare your ingredients without knowing what the next dish is going to require, so you can simply sit on a batch of prepared ingredients and drag them over to the pot when required. You can queue up ingredients to prepare too, meaning it requires even less forethought as you just tap each dish and wait for it to finish. There's no further interaction with your ingredients other than tapping them - no Cooking Mama-style chopping, dicing or slicing, just a tap that turns bread, fish or meat into a mushy mess in a bowl. You never get any sense that you're actually cooking, just participating in some banal, simplistic approximation of how to explain a kitchen to children.
In fact, the kitchen may as well have been drawn by children, such is its graphical detail. You'll spend most of your time starting at variously coloured pots of mush and simmering pots, with an occasional appearance made by a tiny apparition of Mr Ramsay depicting various moods. That's pretty much it - there's next-to no animation, save for the swirling of ingredients when they magically become mush, and really only the steam rising from the pans gives any impression that you're actually cooking.
Sound-wise, there are a few samples of Mr Ramsay's voice to motivate you, though naturally without his world-renowned penchant for the odd expletive. There are a few perfunctory sound effects, our favourite being the bizarre noise when you prepare the bread in the yellow dish, which sounds something akin to a rattlesnake wringing a raccoon's neck. There's a funky little keyboard number bubbling away in the background but nothing that'll really have you pumping up the stereo.
As you will have guessed from the VS in the title, the main way to play this game is against an opponent, either through local wireless play (no Download Play supported) or against a computer-controlled adversary. If you decide to take on the CPU, you can choose various difficulties that affect your CPU's imaginary hand-eye coordination, the complexity of the recipes and how often the ingredient-reconstituting power-up will appear. Playing on some of the higher difficulty levels is a test of timing and virtual plate-spinning but you never escape the feeling you're just putting coloured pieces into place in a completely unrewarding and pointless fashion. Local play is only mildly less tedious than playing against a CPU, because at least two human players can constantly abuse each other for being so stupid to have bought the game twice.
There's almost nothing to recommend Hell's Kitchen VS as a good purchase - the gameplay is extremely basic, bears almost no resemblance to cooking and is about as pointless as one could imagine, with no leaderboards, career progression or anything to offer other than different difficulties. With a friend it becomes a little more bearable, although we'd still suggest you take it in turns beating each other around the head with a plank of wood before you shell out for this.