The old adage must be true, a mother’s work is never done because Mama is back at it again. This time she’s trading in her spatula for a shovel since she’s leaving the comforts of the kitchen for the earthiness of the garden. The game has a familiar feel for those who’ve played either of the previous Cooking Mama games, but the gardening vibe gives it a little twist. As you play you’ll have the opportunity to prove that you’ve got a green thumb when you plant flowers, fruits, and vegetables of all sorts. Your task will be to dig holes, maintain and water them and when or if needed harvest them, amongst other general care and maintenance. If you’re a fan of the “Mama” series or of gardening in general you might just want to read on to get all the dirt on Gardening Mama.
The stylized look of Cooking Mama is back in Gardening Mama, so anyone familiar with the previous games will know what to expect, cute little characters with big heads and rosy cheeks, and a bold color palette with a decent level of detail. Graphics are plain and simple and the animation is fairly smooth. You can tell that they put a lot of effort into the look of the fruits, veggies, and flowers as they all look very beautiful. The bright and vivid coloring coupled with the simple nature of the game appeals to just about anyone young and old, casual gamer or veteran alike.
The biggest oddity by far in Gardening Mama was the audio. The music was fine; it was catchy and cute matching the rest of the feel of the game. Where it got a little dicey was with the dialog. The game is distinctly Japanese and was brought over for publishing by Majesco Entertainment, but the localization somehow missed a beat because there’s a very Japanese sounding voice and, well, there’s no way to tiptoe around it, she’s got a thick accent and is sometimes difficult to understand. Now, that’s quite alright, it’s just a little weird to our sensitive American ears. Suffice it to say, there’s no reason that a little thing like this would detract from the game.
Now, on to the real meat of the game: How does it play? Like any touchscreen based game control is vital to the success otherwise you’ve got a great concept, but terrible execution. Gardening Mama does a great job of getting the mechanics just right. There are a few issues where sensitivity seems to get in the way of your success, but overall the game plays very smoothly. The minigame instructions could be a little bit clearer, but after the first couple of tries, you’ll already have the hang of it, so you won’t bother to read them anyway. Plus, you can always practice before starting if you don’t understand what the goal is. Most minigames involve following a simple command on the screen, mirror this command and you’ll see an action performed on the screen corresponding to what you just input with the stylus. It’s actually quite simple. Getting a feel for the game takes only a couple of minutes and once you do that you’ll probably be hooked.
Don’t worry about a story or anything like that, all you want to do is go out into the garden and keep your plants from wilting. What that means is that they need attention, sometimes there are watering issues, and sometimes they need other things, but either way if you leave them unattended for too long they will die on you, which means you will have to replant them. Unlike a certain other game that has you attending to the garden this isn’t real time, so as long as you don’t ignore them for multiple turns you’ll be just fine. You’ll be rewarded with new plants to put into your gardens as well as decorations, and a new wardrobe and accessories for your character. Some minor issues aside anyone who has enjoyed the Cooking Mama series will probably just as equally, love Gardening Mama. Whether you’ve got five minutes to play or 55, you will find lots to enjoy here, replay value is high with the Mama series.
The nice thing about Gardening Mama is that there is always something to do. There is always a plant that needs tending to, so whether you’re planting your first grape vine or your ninth squash, there will always be a flower that needs to be watered or cared for. Once you’ve harvested your fruits and veggies you’ll have to plant them again. The game never gets too serious and though Mama can scold you at times, she also rewards you with a deep and replayable experience. This is a great example of what the Nintendo DS can do that other handhelds just can’t and that makes for one pretty fun game.
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