Review: Gardening Mama (DS)

Gardening Mama
Genre: Minigame Collection
Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: 03/31/2009

Hey! How the hell did Mama get out of the kitchen? I’m taking those chains I bought back to Home Depot for a refund. “Nev-R-Break” my butt. Wait, what’s that? She’s just puttering around the garden? Well I guess that’s okay, as long as she doesn’t get any fancy ideas about a job that would involve her to leaving the yard or getting paid.
Those are going to be some fatass kids
Don’t wolly, Mama knows her prace!

You sure do you loveable cliche. Now let’s review your latest game!

1) Modes

Well, you have the ability to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers, if you can believe it. Also you can decorate your garden or dress Mama up in various cute outfits (which, honestly, is a bit creepy now that I think of it). It’s actually not a terrible selection of stuff to do for a casual game, but they could have done a lot more.

Gardening Mama feels like it should have been a new mode for the next Cooking Mama game. “Grow your own produce then use it in your cooking!” Instead it’s forced to stand on it’s own, and it feels like something is missing from the experience.

Story Rating: Mediocre

Oh no, rain! Wait, isn't that stuff good?2) Graphics

The game’s graphics are 2D, simple and without much flare or style. Mama and the other characters are appealing, but their animation is so limited that they don’t really come to life. Gardening Mama’s graphics get the job done and not much more.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3) Sound

Gardening Mama’s music is sub-Muzak level blandness. Hey Mama developers, I realize this is a casual game, but believe it or not, girls and old people like music too. No really, they do! You won’t scare them if you put some of it in your game.

Of course the most memorable audio aspect of any Mama game is Mama herself, who shouts encouragement at you in her borderline offensive stereotypical Japanese accent. Problem is, unlike the Wii games where Mama is a regular chatterbox, there are only a small handful of voice clips in Gardening Mama, which are repeated ad nauseum. Cute turns to grating when you’re hearing the same clip for the 200th time in 2-hours.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

4) Control and Gameplay

Okay, so growing a flower or piece of produce in Gardening Mama is broken down into a series of steps, which in turn are broken down further into a series of minigames, and really this is one of the main problems with the game. Everything is overly drawn out. Simply growing an apple or flower may take seven or eight steps, and each one of those steps may require you to play anywhere up to six or seven minigames. By the time you finally get your apple you’ve long since ceased caring.
Mama gets dirty

Although perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. The minigames themselves are actually fairly fun, with the touchscreen controls working quite well for the most part. Problem is, the game does a poor job of explaining what you’re supposed to be doing in any given minigame. A bunch of arrows and indicators appear on screen giving you the general gist, but often it will still take you a couple tries to figure out what’s going on. Really, the only way to get a handle on things is to play each minigame in “Practice” mode once or twice first, which just makes a drawn out process even lengthier. Even after playing certain games many times you may still find certain subtleties elude you. What the heck is the point of having Mama sitting up on the top screen all the time if she’s not going to do anything useful, like providing instructions on how to play the game?

The truth is, I think letting Mama loose in the garden was a flawed idea on a fundamental level. Cooking is an immediate, visceral experience that involves a lot of different processes that translate well to touchscreen or motion controls. Gardening, on the other hand, is a long-term activity that requires a lot of repetition and patience. I’m not saying gardening isn’t satisfying, personally I’d rather dig in the dirt than make dinner, but it’s simply not an activity that lends itself to gaming as well as cooking.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5) Replayability

There’s actually quite a long list of things to grow and unlock in Gardening Mama, and if you wanted to get it all you could spend a solid amount of time with the game. Whether you’ll have the patience is another story. After only a couple hours of playing I found the experience quite repetitive, with minor variations of the same minigames being thrown at me time and time again. I soldiered on for a few more hours, but I couldn’t imagine bothering to unlock every trinket available.

Replayability Rating: Decent

6) Balance

It’s almost impossible to fail in Gardening Mama. Heck, for all I know it is impossible to fail, because I never did. Even when I badly botched a step, screwing up multiple minigames because I didn’t bother to try them in Practice mode first I still ended up with a bronze medal.

Of course what you want are those shiny gold medals, but while simply succeeding in Gardening Mama is exceedingly easy, getting golds is often unfairly difficult. Getting a gold medal on a step requires that you score a perfect 100% on every one of its minigames. When certain steps involve seven or eight minigames, some of which are poorly explained or feature somewhat wonky controls, getting a gold medal can become an exercise in frustration.

Balance Rating: Bad

Shovel that dirt!  Mama's waiting!7) Originality

Well, I suppose there aren’t a whole lot of gardening video games out there, but let’s be real, this is just Cooking Mama in a new setting. Mama’s still wears her apron and everything. I mean, come on.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8) Addictiveness

If I didn’t have to play this game for review it probably wouldn’t have held my attention for much longer than 15-minutes at a time.

Addictiveness Rating: Poor

9) Appeal Factor

The Cooking Mama games have sold over 7 million copies worldwide. No, that’s not a typo. For whatever reason Mama has herself quite the little cult of followers, and I’m sure this game will sell fairly well too. Will people take to gardening the same way they did to cooking though? I have my doubts.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

10) Miscellaneous

Gardening Mama has a few multiplayer minigames, but they’re only local multiplayer, not online, which is actually getting to be somewhat of a rarity for a DS game these days. Just one of many lazy moves by the Mama developers.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Bad
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Final Score: Mediocre Game

Short Attention Span Summary
The original Cooking Mama was a charming, unique game, but we’re now on our fifth “Mama” game in three years and she unfortunately remains stubbornly stuck in her ways. Gardening Mama represents a lateral move for the series, plunking the character in a new setting rather than addressing long-nagging issues or adding any depth to the experience. Actually, calling it a lateral move might be too generous; it’s arguably a step down from previous games, as gardening simply doesn’t translate to video games as well as cooking. Even fans of the series may find this Mama hard to love.



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