Mama’s new career choice still has some weeds to pick out.
I was completely enamored with the Cooking Mama series the moment I played the first title on the DS. It was a unique concept at the time, and the game was a quick, easy, and fun pick-up-and-play title I could always count on. Unfortunately, since the original, the series has had a rapid decline in quality, with a couple of Wii titles succeeding it. For this reason it was refreshing to see Mama switching gears and throwing in her oven mitts for a pair of gloves in Gardening Mama for the DS. While the concept is new, it still suffers from many of the same vices as its predecessors.
Unlike Cooking Mama, Gardening Mama isn’t as simple as completing a set of mini-games for an evaluation. Instead, players are given access to multiple types of gardens, including a rose, flower, fruit, and vegetable garden. As players successfully maintain and blossom different plants, new ones are unlocked. The key difference between the two titles is that Gardening Mama requires players to go through multiple series of mini-games to grow a plant before they accomplish their goal, whereas in Cooking Mama, players need only to complete the mini-games associated with a single dish. Also, gameplay in Gardening Mama is stretched out in a more linear fashion, requiring players to balance caring for multiple plants that are in different stages of growth, at a time.
Players begin gardening with Mama by planting a seed or bulb, depending on what he or she chooses to grow. Once that set of mini-games is completed an icon appears next to the plant indicating that it is in the growing process. Players must then move on to grow, or care for, another plant. Once the plant completes the initial step in its growing phase, players have a variety of tasks to complete including watering, removing insects, tying down vines, removing thorns, and applying fertilizer. If players neglect a particular plant for too long, a frantic headline rolls across the screen stating that a particular plant is wilting. Although the plant will be fine for two or three rounds, if it is not tended to within this time frame it will wilt and die. The amount of time between growing phases isn’t determined by time in the traditional sense. Rather, time progresses with each set of mini-games. After the entire series of mini-games are completed for a given plant, players receive a rating for their work. Completing each of the mini-games perfectly will net players a gold medal.
There are dozens of different plants to grow in a variety of locations;, however, there just isn’t enough variety in the game to sustain the sort of time and effort investment the game sometimes requires. There is no instant gratification to be had, and unfortunately, with the exception of the fruits and vegetables, the only way to re-grow the flowers is to wait for them to die and start over again.
This brings me to one of the best aspects about Gardening Mama: earning prizes. During every mini-game a clock counts down the remaining time a player has. If players are able to complete a mini-game within a specific amount of time, they are awarded a bonus point. For the price of three bonus points players can choose one of three prize boxes containing a random prize. Possible prizes include new articles of clothing and accessories to dress up Mama, decorations that can be used in the Flower Garden, and by far the best prize, fertilizers that allow players to grow special flowers. These flowers can unlock a new garden where these special flowers can be grown at any point, and then exchanged over WiFi with friends. The type of fertilizer a player chooses can also impact which color the plant will become, and how many fruits/vegetables grow.
Sadly, controlling Gardening Mama seemed to be my biggest challenge throughout the game. Sometimes the controls worked, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes I had to retry a single mini-game within the larger set several times just to figure out what the game was asking me to do. Even though arrows and other on-screen cues indicate how players are supposed to perform the designated task, often they are not clear enough to demonstrate exactly what you must do. In some of the instances where the directions were clear, the game expected extreme precision with gestures, and my actions were not precise enough to effectively perform the task. For example, in one of the mini-games you must scoop out soil in different increments. The amount of soil removed is determined by how fast the stylus is swiped across the screen. As one would expect, consistently scooping out the proper amount of soil was near impossible.
By far my most hated game throughout my time with Gardening Mama was the seemingly easy task of pulling the pot off of the plant. Pulling this plastic covering off of the plant never seemed to happen in just one stylus swipe, thus forcing a frenzied swiping of the stylus across the DS screen until the damn thing finally decided to come off.
Furthermore, moving around the garden is unnecessarily slow and the window of vision is so small that it can sometimes take a tediously long amount of time to figure out which plants need tending to.
While there isn’t much to talk about regarding the title's soundtrack, the voice acting is simply too terrible, yet hilarious, not to mention. From the moment a player turns on the game they are subjected to absolutely horrendous voice acting, clearly performed by an individual whose native language is not English. Whenever the in-game commentator speaks, it's a good thing that there is text on screen, because the dialog is so butchered it leaves players completely baffled as to what the actress is attempting to say. One of the best examples is terrific, which when spoken sounds like "terlific." I still can’t keep myself together when I hear the game attempt to say, "Don’t worry, Mama will take care of it." Honestly, some of the best moments I had with the game were laughing hysterically at, and mimicking, the voicing of Gardening Mama.
In all, there are just certain rotten parts of the Mama series formula that the developers continue to overlook every time a new edition comes out. While Gardening Mama comes very close to being a leader in the series, glitchy controls and gameplay that can become tedious and boring hold it back from being a truly enjoyable title.