Review: Crafting Mama (Nintendo DS)

Crafting Mama
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: 10/26/2010

Last year I got stuck reviewing Cooking Mama 3. When I first heard the news, I was less than enthused. As a man in his early twenties, it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing I would have bought on my own. Even now, if you look at the past few games I’ve reviewed, you’ll find things like EA Sports MMA, God of War: Ghost of Sparta, and a couple of anime based fighters. Cooking sims are clearly not my thing.

So, why am I reviewing this game? If you clicked on the link to the Cooking Mama review, you’ll find that the game got its hooks into me. It became one of my favorite games of 2010, hooked in not only me but several of my family and friends. Heck, my sister still bugs me to bring it over when I visit. The game is fun, what can I say.

One thing I’ve found interesting about the series is how more often than not, players grow tired of the formula after they’ve played a sequel. It seems the magic doesn’t last and that worried me when it came time to review this. However, I figured that the switch from cooking to crafting would be enough to keep me engrossed. After all, it isn’t likely that too many mini games or activities were going to repeat. So, I didn’t hesitate to offer my services when this game came in.

So, is Crafting Mama a mere cut and paste job, or is this going to be another hit for casual games on the DS?

Modes

You start off with the basic options in this game. “Let’s Craft” is functionally similar to “Let’s Cook” in the other games. There are a few crafts to start off with. As you complete crafts, new ones are unlocked and this keeps going on until you’ve reached around forty. You can replay crafts to earn higher scores, or practice particularly tough steps. Several crafts also have multiple aesthetic choices for you to make. For example, when making a flower wreath, you have a choice between about six flowers. The games may not change, but the item you get at the end will look different.

You also have a mastery crafting section. For these crafts, you won’t know what you’re making until you’re done, and all of them involve either woodwork, pottery, or sewing. These crafts are generally more involved and include similar steps. Once beaten, they become playable in regular crafting mode. This is a one and done mode, but I can see why it was put in the game.

There is something new to this series. Every time you complete a craft in the basic mode, you unlock a crafting game. In these, you play a quick mini-game using the crafted item. For example, you use the maracas you made for a quick rhythm game, the apron for a catching game, and squirt gun for a shooting gallery. Clothing items can be used to customize the titular Mama and you can good around with a xylophone or ocarina. These games keep track of your high score and there are two tiers of medals to earn.

Beyond these three modes, you have a basic multiplayer option as well. These involve playing head to head matches using basic mini games. It isn’t particularly exciting. You also have a set of basic options including the option to send a demo of the game to another player. It’s a staple of the series, but it is still nice. All told the package is pretty nice. It may not have a large compliment of modes, but what’s here is decent. At least there isn’t some half baked shopping game to waste space on the card.

Graphics

Crafting Mama keeps the series aesthetic to a tee. The game is comprised of bright colors, simple shapes, and an overall appealing look. Characters appear almost to be paper cut outs, but it works for the game. Mama herself is one again adorable in her apron and her smile is infectious.

There are plenty of different items in the game, and they do a great job of looking like fisher-price versions of things they represent. It’s almost as if you’re playing with a digital version of those old play sets all the girls had when I was a kid.

There aren’t many effects, but they’re nice. Sawdust builds as you cut through wood, flowers blow in the wind, and your hand starts to turn red when you leave it in steam for too long. It isn’t going to blow your mind or give you an exciting light show, but everything here is tidy and looks good.

It’s a pretty nice looking game, but so are all of the Cooking Mama games. It doesn’t raise the stakes but doesn’t set the series back either.

Audio

This is yet another aspect of the game that stays on course.

The music in the game is extremely light and gives the game an easy going feel. It’s all fluff though, as I have trouble recalling tunes unless I’ve just heard them. They’re not bad, but they’re nothing you’ll feel need to keep the sound on for.

Once again, Mama uses horrible stereotypes for her voice work. Whenever she says “Its OK, Mama will help you”, I cringe. I still wonder how they can perpetuate this kind of thing in a game garnered for children. Oddly enough though, all of her sayings are the same, despite the fact that this is a crafting game and you never step foot in a kitchen. It seems like a few new comments were in order.

The sound effects are once again a bit tinny, but get the job done. The sewing machine makes a racket, balloons make loud noises as you shape them into animals, and the sound of sandpaper was realistic enough to drive me nuts just like the real stuff. Series staples such as the chirping when you do a good job or goofy falling noises remain and won’t impress you. They’re just there.

All told, this is a game you can safely play with the sound off.

Gameplay

Just like Cooking Mama 3, I’d like to pay special attention to the fact that this is one of the few games that takes true advantage of the capabilities of the DS. Everything you do is either with the stylus or the built in microphone. There really aren’t enough games that do that.

Every craft in the game comprises of a series of mini games that represent real life steps towards making your goal. If you want to sew an apron, you’ve got to cut fabric and thread a needle. If your goal is to make a flower wreath, you’re going to need to pick some freaking flowers. These mini-games require simple gestures with the stylus for the most part. You follow directional guides to fold a paper airplane, tap a button to spray some water, or blow into the mic to help a pricked finger feel better.

The controls for these games are pretty simple and work well for the most part. The gestures are easy enough to pull off and the hit detection is pretty straightforward. There are a few exceptions of course, but they are rare. There are also fewer min games in this than in Cooking Mama, with some repeating despite the change in theme. For example, the mechanic used to crush crayons to make candles was practically identical to the mechanic used to mark rolling vegetables. The amount of Deja Vu isn’t too much, but it is certainly present.

One thing I noticed about these games was that those not part of an overall recipe were significantly less appealing. I’m talking about the crafting games. Each of these is a one off activity designed to be played for a high score. There are no steps, and no completed toy or trinket to reward you for a good job. As such, the shallowness of the mechanics used to play them are far more likely to become apparent. They weren’t particularly appealing.

Overall, the game is simple, easy to get a hold on, and relatively fun. Some of the charm does rub off after a while, but you aren’t likely to get too bored on your first play through. At the very least, it is a well conceived game that makes up in charm what it lacks in depth.

Replayability

Sadly, this game doesn’t hold up as well in the replay arena as its predecessor did.

One of the biggest reasons for this is that the main attractions are the crafts themselves. There are about forty of these, or half of the recipes in Cooking Mama 3. The game attempts to compensate for this with an equal amount of crafting games, but those aren’t nearly as interesting and won’t hold your attention. It only takes a few hours to see everything this game has to offer.

One of the biggest reasons to replay a game like this is to get the perfect scores on each craft. For the cooking game, it was a daunting task that I still haven’t completed. This game, however, I’ve pulled it off almost immediately. I’ll go into that more in the next section, but it makes this game a much shorter experience that it should have been.

There is still plenty of content for those who want it, but there isn’t much of a reason to go back. I recommend playing this game casually, as long sessions will make the experience end all too quickly.

Balance

One of the things I loved about Cooking Mama 3 was that it was simple to play, yet challenging to master. There were plenty of recipes with tough steps that patience and skill to complete. It made getting that perfect score something to be proud of.

Unfortunately, I was not so challenged by this game. I got a perfect score on about seventy-five percent of the crafts on my first try. Of the remaining, only two were not perfected on the second try. I got those on the third. Suddenly, there was no challenge left to face. It was disappointing.

This isn’t simply because I’m more skilled then I was. The amount of time you have for each challenge seems to have been raised dramatically. There are only a couple of challenges where screwing up a step causes permanent damage, and most of the games are nearly impossible to fail. Worse off, there are a couple of crafts where all you have to do is decorate. You can do nothing and add another gold medal to your collection. It was simply a big letdown.

For whatever reason, the difficulty curve in this game has been significantly lessened. While it might make the game better for little kids, the overall experience suffers because of it. After all, who wants a medal they didn’t have to do anything to acquire?

Originality

Well, this is the fifth game in the series to hit the DS. You may be crafting instead of cooking or gardening, but the end result is pretty much the same. I mentioned how some of the games carry over.

The only thing relatively original I can think of is that you get to play with the crafts you create. We’ve seen things like that in a few games before, but it is new to the series and still comparably rare for games as a whole.

Addictiveness

Crafting Mama never managed to get its hooks into me. There are many reasons for this.

For one, the lack of any sort of challenge is extremely off putting. I breezed through the game as if I was merely doing a word search. It wast a matter of time. As such, I found it hard to play for extended sections.

Also, the game is significantly shorter than its predecessors. Crafts rarely last more than a minute or two, and they can all be completed in less than a few hours. It’s hard to get hooked into a game once you realize there isn’t much to it.

Finally, the series just has a level of fatigue the more games in it you play. I see now why veterans of the games don’t get overly excited when a new game is announced. They know that they’ll get roughly the same experience as the last game. While it might have been a good experience, there’s no new story, characters, or twists to keep you coming back. It might as well be as if you’ve picked up any other game in the series and started playing.

I’m sad to say that Crafting Mama is a game you’ll likely have no problems putting down after a few minutes of play.

Appeal Factor

For fans of the series, it is entirely possible that this game will appeal to you simply because you’re not dealing with food for the first time. It might not sound like much to the uninitiated, but small changes like that can breathe new life into an old toy. While the mini games are roughly the same and the aesthetic is as bright and cheerful as ever, the game is worth a look.

For those who haven’t played a game in the series yet, the game holds a much greater appeal. Trust me, I may not be gaga over this game like I was for Cooking Mama 3, but that is in large part due to series fatigue. There’s a saying that you never forget your first time, and it sort of applies here. The challenge may not be up for it, but the game is a solid addition to anyone’s library of DS games.

Miscellaneous

Once again, this series is a perfect fit on the DS. It takes advantage of the system’s capabilities and can be played in short burst on a bus ride or during a break. It is a great portable title in that regard.

Also once again, you shouldn’t let stereotypical gender roles keep you from this game. It has plenty of good qualities whether you’re a male or a female.

If you’re looking for a good game to get you’re kid, this can definitely fit the bill. There’s no violence or profanity of any sort, the game is pretty easy to play, and it might just get kids excited to try and make real crafts. If you do buy it for a kid though, please don’t let them go around thinking that all Japanese women talk like that. OK?

The Scores
Modes: Decent
Graphics: Enjoyable
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Poor
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Crafting Mama is a solid game that should keep players entertained, but doesn’t quite live up to its potential. The lack of any sort of challenge is a real downer, and there is a level of series fatigue that is likely to plague experienced players. Still, this is one of the relatively few games to use the DS’s full capabilities and it plays well. If you’re on the market for a game to kill some time with during breaks, this will fit the bill quite nicely.

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