Foodville is holding its annual Restaurant Row Chef’s Challenge and you’ve earned a spot in the prestigious contest. With a limited budget and a ticking clock, Cooking Quest is all about seeing whether you have what it takes to assemble the best ingredients and hustle in the kitchen to prepare five-star dishes that will impress the judges.

In Cooking Quest you’ll be challenged to prepare meals in six different restaurants, each of which offer a different cuisine: Italian, French, Mexican, Asian fusion, seafood and a good old American steakhouse.

Each meal is four courses, starting with the appetizer followed by the entree and dessert – and of course the meal must be paired with the appropriate beverage, whether it’s wine, sake or a pina colada.

For each course you must assemble the appropriate ingredients and tools (such as a corkscrew, knife or ice cream scoop) to cook with. These items are found scattered amongst a room full of clutter, and in typical hidden object fashion you must clear the room by finding all of the items provided on your list.

Some suspension of disbelief is required here: for example, in the wine shop you might find yourself searching for, er… a lizard, two phones, a safe and some tulips. Ok, so these aren’t the exact ingredients for the creme brulee on the menu, but occasionally you do find a special item that does have something to do with the task at hand, like a cleaver, avocados, fish and rice.

Every time you find one of the special items you’ll receive an interesting factoid along with it. Did you know, for example, that blue cheese gets injected with bacteria cultures to create veins of blue mold? Yum.

Adding another layer of complexity is the fact that you’re also working with a limited budget, and after each hidden object search you have to purchase a key ingredient from your shopping list with whatever money you have. For example, when choosing a wine you can go all out and splurge on the Vintage French Bordeaux for $65, or opt for the more economical California Pinot Noir for $32. If you’re completely broke (or cheap), there’s always the House Merlot, which is free.

You start each restaurant with a budget of $100 and have to spend it wisely, because your money has to last through all four courses so if you splurge too early you might not be able to afford higher quality ingredients in the later stages. You might also run out of hints, because using one to reveal the location of an item costs $20.

Furthermore, clicking on too many wrong items will cost you both time and money. The game is pretty quick to penalize wrong clicks, and the fact that gameplay suffers from the problem of name confusion (i.e. you it won’t let you click on the kayak when it’s asking for a boat; a ship’s steering wheel is confusingly referred to as a "helm," and so on) makes it all too easy to mistakenly click and watch your precious budget being drained before your eyes.

The good news is that you can earn extra cash through speed bonuses (clicking on more than one item in rapid succession), and time bonuses awarded at the end of the level. If you run out of time, you’ll start the level over again with a new set of objects.

After you’ve assembled all your ingredients, it’s on to the food preparation and serving phase of the game, which is presented like an Azada-style puzzle with a bit of real-time action thrown in. You’re presented with a scene of a table setting along with pots and kitchen appliances for you to do the prep work, and an inventory of the items you’ve collected across the top of the screen. You can click and drag items to use them. For example, you can open the bottle of wine by dragging the corkscrew onto it, then fill the customer’s glass by dragging the opened wine bottle to the glass. You’ll also have to do things like cook a steak on a skillet, watching the temperature gauge to make sure you take it off the heat at just the right time.

After serving the meal you’re awarded a star rating based on the quality of the ingredients you purchased, and how precisely the food was cooked.

Some of the scenes – like a stove top with bubbling pots or the inside of a humming fridge – are pretty dynamic. However, the biggest disappointment with Cooking Quest is that with only six restaurants, it’s over too soon with limited replay value consisting of playing through the scenes with different items and trying to improve your star rating. Experienced players should be able to get five stars or close their first time around and blow through the game in about three hours. Furthermore, items repeat frequently, as do the locations.

There’s no question that the game is fun while it lasts, it’s just a shame that the game ends just when it’s really starting to cook. Still, that’s the beauty of the free trial. Try Cooking Quest by all means, and if you’re having fun but have already reached the fourth or fifth restaurant by the time the trial is over, keep in mind that there’s not going to be much more to unlock.