How A Bad Video Game got me into speedrunning

Getting sucked in

Last week, I got into a certain Hot New Trend in speedrunning.

Cooking Mama: Cookstar (for Nintendo Switch)

For anyone who hasn’t kept up, Cookstar is the Cooking Mama game so bad it got pulled from sale and the license holder - Office Create - talked about legal action against the developer. It’s wild and while I won’t be recapping that, I recommend you go take a skim of the Wikipedia page if you’re curious.

Honest is something I aspire to be, so, full transparency - I’m not being creative here. The amazing Laura Kate Dale (@LauraKBuzz on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, Patreon, etc) posted the following, on January 7th

On first glance, I saw this, thought “haha, that’s funny, all the best” and tuned in for a little bit before having to close my browser to go to a meeting. When I returned post meeting, and Laura (still on the same run) mentioned that she would love for someone to challenge her time, I took it upon to challenge her, live, on Twitch, to a new time. Is this what ten months of pandemic brain does to a woman? Sure. But, my streams are usually about four hours long, and, if I didn’t get a time at least I could say I came second and it would be a funny addition to a Twitter bio.

I signed up to SpeedRun.com, ordered a Chef hat, and posted the following.


Challenging what I thought speedruns were

Heading into this I thought speedruns were things people who really loved a game did, and required great skill - the kind of persom who runs the same level of the same game for years, to get tenths upon tenths of a second of improvement. This kind of thing, to be frank, scared me a little - making my speedrun.com account felt like the equivalent of diving head first into a boulder trained in mixed martial arts. I saw dozens upon dozens of people on the Cooking Mama 2 leaderboard, all of whom were competing to be at the very top, with times in the couple of minutes or less on the (admittedly, very entertaining to watch) “Burn A Pie%” category.

This idea of “enjoying the game as something else” hit like a brick during the first run I did - it was something which was a whole lot of fun which I did not expect to have with such an awful game. From joking about the carrots just being stretched diamonds, to the wonderful art someone in my chat produced (which I am so gracious for - a link to the tweet with the art + their Twitter should be linked below, check them out!), it was strangely one of the best times I had playing games in such a while.


The Competition

Before this, I kinda was a little worried by competing - I didn’t want to upset anyone by taking their times, and I certaintly didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes by being the Weirdo who @s you on Twitter implying “Haha I’m better than you at video games 😆🤭” when in fact I just wanted to see if I could get a good time as well.

One thing that has stuck out is how far this worry has been from what actually happened.

Everyone in the handful of people competing have always seemed to be welcoming of new times. Receiving the news that Laura somehow got a sub 13 on 5 recipes was amazing - even though I got beaten, it meant we knew for sure that we could go further, and continue to get the most out of this pretty bad video game. The joke about me being Laura’s anime rival is entertaining to me, a little out of being confused as to how I got here, but also amazement into how far this healthy back and forth has gone.

The welcoming of new times set by others is something I at least love, as they give me motivation to load the game one more time, listen to that obnoxious music, and see if I can one up Laura or Dan and get back to the #1 spot. Even those playing other Cooking Mama games (like the mods of the leaderboards) have been incredibly lovely and welcoming - something that’s a stark contrast to many other competitive scenes I’ve tried to stumble into in the past.

One thing I didn’t expect was how good it was not only to compete in times, but compete in knowledge - finding out the new skips and sharing them feels equally as good (to me) as getting a new time, and I’m just as proud of my discoveries. Figuring out the differences between v1.0 and v1.0.2 of the game should have felt horrible as it led to my times getting de-listed, but I was welcoming my times getting delisted with open arms as something I helped research went into that decision!

Wrapping Up

Speedrunning Cookstar has been so much fun. Even if my times right now aren’t looking like the best, I want to go get them down (at some point). That might just be the fact I enjoy repetitive actions, but I also do enjoy the healthy sense of discovery from this. Beyond that, creating a (however small) bit of joy and entertainment for people has been so fun - talking back and forth with chat, defending my controversial opinions about Mario 3D World being more enjoyable than Mario Galaxy (a hill I will die on) or even just providing the antagonist character for whenever the anime adaptation is picked up by Netflix.

Even if right now, I’m going off and playing actually good games, I’m so glad, for a few hours, I could truly call myself the Cookstar.


Thanks

I feel it’s worth mentioning the following people:

  • Laura Kate Dale for kickstarting the popularity of veggie any% 50 recipe category, and for being such a wonderful competitor
  • Super_NinDando for wandering in as the third amazing competitor, and developing procon slicing strats
  • My good friend Tom who is partially the reason I bought this awful garbage game in the first place
  • The Switch homebrew scene for developing the tools I used to remove updates from the game and do research - shoutouts to Atmosphere, Goldleaf and https://github.com/CTCaer/hekate
  • Everyone who I haven’t mentioned who has been following along, whether on twitter or in my Twitch chat for being good company during these four hour streams