Review: Gardening Mama

Cooking Mama was one of the first games to feature a traditional female role model that didn’t aspire to be a sexy vixen, a dangerous diva, or anything else of the sort. While Mama isn’t exactly the kind of woman I would hope to grow up to be, it was a wholesome and welcome change of pace for younger gamers, especially of the female persuasion. The friendly Mama would present different types of recipes for eager gamers to prepare, all while being as helpful as possible. If for some reason you made an error, Mama would gleefully offer to “fix it,” though she did do so with flames in her eyes. Though it was a great choice for parents or women just getting into the gaming scene, it was also great for those of us who are a bit more seasoned in their choice of video games.

However, it wasn’t without its problems, as many games tend to have at least a few. When my adventures with Mama came to an end, it was a sad goodbye, as the mini-games had proven themselves to be effective timewasters and good inspirations for getting up and cooking a real dish. After a move to the Wii and a period of time with no word from Mama (save for a silly PETA controversy), she has returned to the Nintendo DS , and this time it’s in the garden!

Gardening Mama is the second DS career path for Mama, and its nice to see her branching out.  Instead of living it up in the kitchen, now she’s toiling away in the garden with a number of helpers to ensure anything that gets planted grows up to be strong, healthy, and beautiful. While it succeeds in perpetuating the standard of cuteness that Cooking Mama began, it fails in a number of game-marring ways. Still, that’s not to say the game can’t be enjoyed – not at all!  I was pleasantly surprised at its simplicity and fun, bright, and cheerful atmosphere.

There are a number of locations within Mama’s garden that you can get your start in. You can choose to work with fruits, vegetables, or simply flowers. Whichever you pick, there are plenty of mini-games to play. You’ll start from the very beginning of a flower or plant’s growth – from opening the package of seeds to harvesting fruits and vegetables, and even the upkeep of your little darlings. Every step of the way requires a mini-game. Gardening Mama borrows many of the core mechanics from Cooking Mama, so many of the steps will seem familiar. Like the segments with cooking, you’ll be expected to mix the soil with the newly sown seeds. Also, much like pouring water into a boiling pot, you’ll be watering plants. While these tidbits are interesting and have fascinating premises grounded in realism, they also lack direction.

When a new mini-game is featured, you will be given incredibly vague instructions on what to actually do. For example, one game has you watering plants to the game’s satisfaction. While you are told to water, there are never actually any instructions given on how to do so. It’s frustratingly vague, as you have no real clue how much water should go onto the plant. There is no onscreen indicator guiding you to how much water is actually needed, or the way you should go about doing it. This trend continues throughout the game with some terribly confusing actions that will leave you scratching your head quite often. What’s more, some of your actions will not register via the DS’s touch screen. Many of the games, like Gardening Mama’s predecessor, require heavy usage of the stylus. When taps, slides, and swirls won’t register, completing the various challenges becomes a very harrowing endeavor, and one that you won’t want to spend too much time figuring out. Often, you’ll fail mini-games without knowing exactly why, and the game requires a great deal of patience to really master – especially without too much help in the form of directions.

Though the spotty motion detection and stylus recognition hampers a good portion of the gameplay, there is still much fun to be had if you can decipher exactly what you’re supposed to do while tending to the garden. You will enjoy the game, no doubt, if you’re great at multitasking. You can be watering a wilting flower in one area, then running back to plant some seeds, then mix some fertilizer all while in the same location. This is one interesting part the game has to offer, and it expands on the first game in this manner. There is a wealth of different and unique options available to unlock as you grow different fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and there is no shortage of activity going on at any given time.

There is some local multiplayer available where you can utilize a single cart to play gardening challenges with friends, but it’s quite shallow unless you happen to enjoy performing the same games over and over versus a friend. The amount of variety in the challenges makes up for this fault, so there’s no reason to complain.

Gardening Mama is oozing with cuteness, much like her previous adventures. Mama is as adorable as ever, and the graphics follow suit. The music is nothing memorable, but when you get a load of Mama’s thick, difficult-to-decipher Japanese accent, you’ll likely squeal with joy. “Mama will fix it!” “Is okay! Mama fix it!” and other variations are sprinkled throughout. Admittedly, it’s a big awkward and cringe-inducing to hear such words coming from a traditional “mother” type (the voice sounds so young!), but it’s so darned adorable!

If you’ve enjoyed the growing adventures of the all-purpose Mama, chances are you will enjoy the gardening version as well. It’s not devoid of issues, but it’s got so much charm and cuteness that it will be hard to resist if you’ve ever fallen victim to Mama’s welcoming grin. Ironically enough, however, this may be one to pass on for younger gamers. They may get a bit frustrated when it comes to the game’s technological issues. Best to play this if you have the presence of mind to figure out some of the strange mini-games and to persevere through touch-mechanics that don’t always work. Gardening Mama isn’t perfect, but it shows there’s life after the kitchen and we hope she sticks around for awhile!

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