Review: Camping Mama: Outdoor Adventure (Nintendo DS)

Camping Mama: Outdoor Adventure
Genre: Mini-Game Collection
Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Publisher: Majesco Games
Release Date: 09/13/11

Mama has sure been busy since her debut way back in 2006; she’s starred in three cooking games, a crafting game and a gardening game for the DS as well as two cooking games and a babysitting game for the Wii. Even with all that, she still had time to visit E3 this year and give me an oven mitt and a hug. I feel pretty special knowing she was able to fit me into her schedule, believe me. Her family has apparently decided that she’s overworked as well, which means that holy crap, Mama has an actual family?!? Why was I not informed of this? When did this happen? Whatever, never mind. Anyway, her family has decided the family needs to go camping to relax and unwind, which of course means that now Mama will be spending her time fixing your foul-ups in the great outdoors. Well, at least she has Papa to help her out this time. Camping Mama: Outdoor Adventure is exactly what you’d expect from the Cooking Mama franchise: a thin concept surrounding a whole mess of varied and fun mini-games, this time with an outdoors, camping-inspired theme. Is the change in theme enough to freshen up the product, or is it the same experience as ever with a new coat of paint? (Hey, there’s a thought: Painting Mama!) Let’s find out.

So, the description I noted above more or less handles the story: Papa has decided that Mama works hard, so the family is going camping to give her the chance to relax. You play as either of their kids, daughter Ichigo or son Ringo, as they perform various tasks to help rough it in the great outdoors, from collecting and preparing food to catching bugs to preparing fires and beyond. The game offers you four main options of things to do from the main menu, so you’re not just jumping into one mode and running with it. Explore allows you to wander the island vacation spot, which is where you’ll spend most of your time collecting things, unlocking mini-games and so on, and it’s the most in-depth mode of the lot. Challenge allows you to play any of the mini-games you’ve unlocked in the game up to that point for practice or to improve your high scores in the games. Books allows you to review all of the things you’ve collected, including the various medals you find and earn, bugs and fish you catch, and meals you make. Options is mostly self-explanatory, though you can also send out two DS Download games to friends, “Catch Fish” and “Have A Barbecue”, that not only let them try the game, but allow multiplayer for up to four players. The plot is basically minimalist, but the game offers up enough modes to be interesting and keep your interest, if you’re into collecting everything you can and getting the best possible scores on events in games, though if you’re not, you’ll likely just spend all your time in Explore mode.

Camping Mama basically looks like most of the Cooking Mama titles that are created using 2D visuals; it’s bright, colorful, generally well animated and overall fine to look at. The exploration sections are presented from an overhead perspective, featuring a cute, retro Zelda sort of visual style, albeit without any of the depth of that sort of game. When your character jumps into a mini-game of some sort or another you’re usually given a close-up view of whatever task you’ve been assigned, and in these instances the objects you’ll interact with are obviously identifiable, so leaves look like leaves, bugs look like a worm with huge eyes, and so on. The visuals are in no way console taxing or ground breaking, but they’re serviceable and you won’t likely confuse anything you’re looking at for anything else, at least. Aurally, the music is your standard upbeat video game fare that sounds like it’d be fine in, say, a kids cartoon show, and while none of it is memorable, it’s all fine to listen to. The voice work in the game mostly amounts to a few lines of spoken dialogue from Mama, Papa and the kids, and it’s fairly apparent that the actors are Japanese actors speaking in English by the obvious phonetic pronunciations of things, but this is charming in its own way and inoffensive. The sound effects are an equal mix of cute audio effects and regular interaction noises, meaning that you’ll hear a cracking wood sound when chopping logs, but tinkling effect noises when you find items and such, and for the most part, these all work fine as well.

Playing Camping Mama, if you’ve never played a game in the franchise, isn’t terribly difficult. You can go through the game as either Ringo or Ichigo, as noted, though there’s no obvious mechanical differences between the two so you can play as whichever one makes you happy. In the Explore mode, you can either use the stylus to move around or the D-Pad and buttons, allowing you to walk and run around the environment and interact with the things in it. Each location in Explore mode features nine different sub-locations where you’ll have a main objective and multiple sub objectives to complete. The main objective will usually be something like “Get to Mama/Papa” or “Bring firewood to Mama/Papa”, and to complete this thing you’ll have to collect items and play various mini-games. Each location usually has two main mini-games to play, such as starting a fire or cooking something, which are calculated as part of the stage score, along with how many health hearts you have left. Various other mini-games will pop up as you explore around, whether they show up randomly as you walk, when you open chests, when you bump into a specific kind of enemy, and so on. Oh, yes, there are enemies to avoid, represented as woodland creatures like dogs, wasps and monkeys among others, often in two colors apiece. One color deals a point of damage for bumping into them, while the other will challenge you to some kind of mini-game or another, though they generally walk around in pre-determined patterns so they’re often easily avoided. In short: you’ll spend each section wandering around, randomly being challenged to mini-games, until you arrive at the right location or collect the right items, where you’ll have to complete a mini-game to end the stage and receive a grade, which you’ll repeat until you’ve cleared out Explore mode.

The mini-games you’ll have to play are the big appeal of the experience, mind you, and as mini-game collections go, there are a lot of them and they’re all rather different. The game is generally pretty good about explaining how the mini-games work, giving you basic directions at the start and visual cues on how to move the character or object you control around to do whatever it is the game asks of you. The game offers a total of ninety six mini-games for you to play, across all sorts of outdoors-themed activities, from the obvious “cook this” games to catching bugs, chopping wood, guessing colored flags ghosts will hold up (seriously) and others, giving you a wide amount of variety of things to play around with. Your scores are retained in the Challenge mode and in the Explore mode, so if you want to improve an overall stage score you can play the Explore section again, while if you just want to improve a mini-game score you can play it again in Challenge mode. You can also, as noted, review all of the badges, treasures, bugs, fish and food you’ve collected/created from the Books section, for those who want to collect everything in the game, as there’s an easy way to track your collection right there.

Camping Mama, thematic changes aside, doesn’t do a lot to distinguish itself from its predecessors, however; it’s a string of mini-games attached to a basic shell of moving from place to place, avoiding enemies along the way, and while the “avoid enemies and search for stuff” element is fairly new, the rest of the game it’s attached to isn’t. The Cooking Mama franchise basically revolves around the concept of playing mini-games to progress, and breaking this up with an overhead “adventure” mode isn’t much more of an improvement than the shopping sections were in Cooking Mama 3. The attempt is nice enough, but there’s not much to it, or at least, not enough to be interesting. Further, the series basically seems like it’s being aimed more and more towards a casual, younger crowd, which is fine in concept, but in reality basically means that the game is becoming less and less challenging. If you’re brand new to these sorts of games and generally unskilled in gaming as a whole you might find some of the mini-games complex, but gamers of at least average skill will get through the game with mostly gold medals by the end, leaving minimal need to go through the mini-games again in Challenge mode. The earlier Cooking Mama games seemed a bit more challenging in comparison, and while this is something of a one-off game from the main series, that doesn’t make the general lack of difficulty any less noticeable or any more forgivable. Also, it’s odd that the game offers two multiplayer mini-games through the DS Download service, but none in the actual game for groups of people who might have the game, and while depending on your age group and the preferences of your friends this might be an unlikely concept, the option for such a thing might have been nice, especially since it’s obvious it can be done.

Camping Mama: Outdoor Adventure can safely be described as “another game in the Cooking Mama franchise”, and that’s certainly not a bad thing to be given that it’s still a fun time… it’s just not reinventing the wheel by any means, and isn’t likely to convert the unconverted or bring back those who are beyond caring. It looks and sounds as cute as ever, there’s still plenty of stuff to do with the game if you’re the sort of person who likes mini-game collections framed by a vaguely explorative gameplay system, and for the most part, everything works fine and responds as you’d expect it to. The game isn’t going to inspire anyone who wasn’t impressed with the prior games or who had jumped off because of the repetitiveness of the franchise, however, because it’s still basically the same game it ever was, with an overhead exploration gimmick tossed in for good measure. There’s minimal challenge to the mini-games, minimal multiplayer support, and minimal innovation added to the game, to the point where it basically just comes across as one part mini-game collection and one part scavenger hunt, and if that doesn’t interest you, neither will the game. If you’re fine with that concept or the series in general, Camping Mama will make you happy for a while, as there is some decent length to the game, but if you’re looking for something more involved you’re not going to find it here.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: BAD
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Camping Mama: Outdoor Adventure is pretty much exactly what you would expect from the title and the franchise: a bunch of mini-games, some of which involve cooking, framed by a solid but unimpressive access system, in this case an exploration mode and a challenge mode to play the ones you’ve already unlocked. Add to that the expected cute visuals and audio, the standard solid controls, and the ability to collect all sorts of little novelties to review later, and you’ve basically got everything you’d expect from the franchise. There’s no real evolution to the experience at this point, unfortunately, and the game lacks for any real substance, as there’s little challenge to the mini-games or the exploration mode, the multiplayer is extremely limited, and there’s little added to the game from prior entries in the franchise. Still, there’s fun to be had with Camping Mama, and if that’s what you’re looking for that’s what you’ll get here, though if you’re hoping for anything beyond that you’re likely out of luck.

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