DS

  News 
  Reviews
  Previews
  Hardware
  Interviews
  All Features

Areas

  3DS
  Android
  iPad
  iPhone
  Mac
  PC
  PlayStation 3
  Vita
  Wii U
  Xbox 360
  Media
  Archives
  Search
  Contests

 

Gardening Mama

Score: 74%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Majesco Games
Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Simulation/ Family/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

If gardening looked as good as it does in Gardening Mama, we'd all be spending more time outdoors. Instead of climbing ladders to pull overgrown poison ivy vines off a tree in my backyard, as I did this weekend, I'd instead be tripping through plots of colorful flowers, fruits, and veggies and interacting with a cadre of cute Japanese characters. The incidental characters here are just that, as Gardening Mama takes center stage with her kooky accent and colorful outfits. One fun activity as you play through the game is decorating Mama and your garden setting, with items you collect as prizes for particularly good performance. It is possible to trade these items wirelessly later in the game, which is an odd choice considering the name of the game. Trading crops would have been more appropriate, but logistically more complex, we assume.

The visual interface in this game is extremely well designed. At no time are you unclear on what to do, and this is more remarkable considering the focus on symbols and visual guides, rather than heavy focus on text instruction. This makes Gardening Mama accessible for younger gamers, and there is even a practice feature to each mini-game so that players aren't penalized by trial-and-error. The other nice thing about the game's design is a Map feature that doubles as a dashboard telling the player where immediate attention is needed. Many resource-management games can quickly become stressful and confusing to younger players, because they simple don't know what to do next. Gardening Mama avoids this by forcing players to start and finish each task in one sitting, then providing visual reminders on what needs attention, and where the player needs to go.


Gameplay:

Simplified simulation games often fail because there is a fine line between "simple" and "boring." Once you distill tasks down to a few simple mini-games and take away resource gathering, storing, and creation, there isn't much left. Not having jobs in multiple unfinished states is a great first step to making simulation gaming accessible to a broad audience, and Cooking Mama did this well. Comparisons between Gardening Mama and titles like Harvest Moon are inevitable, but they are really quite different. Gardening Mama is little more than a collection of mini-games, around the theme of gardening. Trading items and multiplayer aside, the bulk of the game involves bouncing back and forth from one crop to the next, playing fun little mini-games. Compared to the more involved dynamic of building resources (house, barn, etc.) and developing relationships that we've seen in other games, Gardening Mama feels pretty light. Multiplayer helps create more replay value, but we predict this one won't be in rotation long after the garden is full.

There is a nice diversity in the mini-games here that is commendable. Typically, you'll see the same 10-12 activities repeated ad nauseum through games like this; Gardening Mama isn't infinitely diverse, but it does a nice job of introducing new mini-games as you open new areas and plants. The planting and harvesting processes tend to be similar, but you'll find constant variation. One planting process may involve a tilled row, compared to pushing individual seeds into the ground. Some seeds even need to be prepped before planting. Before and during the harvest, you'll find some fun games like chasing mice as they try to abscond with apples, or brushing bugs off stems with a toothbrush. There isn't a big deal made of how "real" the depictions of planting are here, but you get the sense that the overall treatment of each planting process is at least based in reality.


Difficulty:

Navigating the game's interface is simple, and most Gardening Mama mini-games are easily understood as you open up more and more of the garden. The challenge comes from executing a few of the games, and it's not always clear whether this is intentional challenge or poor use of the hardware. Stylus gestures in some mini-games just don't seem to register as well as others, so you'll want to advise younger players to use the Practice mode on any new plantings. There are also options to replay an entire challenge, which may be as simple as two or three mini-games and as involved as a series of four or five mini-games. You are scored on each mini-game that makes up a challenge, so you can bomb a mini-game without blowing the entire thing. This format is smart in that it allows less experienced players to get through with a decent score, but provides incentive for more seasoned gamers to hit a home run. Fundamentally, Gardening Mama is sufficiently challenging for the Tween market but doesn't hold water as an enduring gauntlet for older kids.

Game Mechanics:

There aren't many features of the DS that go unused in Gardening Mama. Tapping, sliding, tracing, and even blowing make an appearance. Not many are used in combination. A sequence of mini-games may use all or most of these, making the process of planting, maintaining, or harvesting a pretty complex activity in aggregate. As mentioned earlier, some of the tracing mechanics in particular are poorly implemented. It's nice that Gardening Mama doesn't force you into the strict "color between the lines" approach taken in other games, but in some instances, it would have been helpful to see more structure. Not knowing where you need to draw lines or what constitutes a good job almost ensures that you'll do a poor job the first few times. Lucky breaks aside, of course. It isn't hard to get lucky in the game with such simple gestures and micro-sized challenges.

Players that enjoyed Mama's cooking will love her garden. The larger audience looking for an engaging mini-game collection on the DS may find Gardening Mama too lightweight, unless we're talking about a fairly young audience. Kudos for smart visual design, and a good balance between realistic simulation and fun, directed gameplay. The bottom line is that Gardening Mama doesn't offend, but also doesn't shine. It's a perfect rental for a diligent young player and a fun distraction if you only pick up your DS a few times during the week. Just like real gardening, maintenance isn't all that much fun.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Windows Elven Legacy Microsoft Xbox 360 The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated