Gardening MamadislikePEGI3 Developer Taito Publisher 505 Games Genre Other Platform Nintendo DS Release May 1st 2009 Casual gamer or not, I'm sure you've heard of Cooking Mama. Mama has become the very symbol of casual gaming, like Mario or Sonic had become the symbol of hardcore gaming back in the 90's, she's so popular that even PETA went all-out to try and discredit her Mama credentials making a vegi-propaganda video game. But the less said about those bunch of loons the better. So, I look at the box of Gardening Mama and think to myself if I could bring myself to review it, I reviewed Sonic Unleashed, so why not?

You make me draw a heart Mama, but you never opened yours!
I've never played Cooking Mama, so Gardening Mama was something new to me. There's no real story involved in the game, it's like a laid-back Warioware title. One with lots of happy-dappy music, a few little side-features which will keep you amused and some utterly infuriating gameplay mechanics. Before we get into any of this though, an observation; Mama hates you. Yes, she does. She sits there on your screen smiling at you, enjoying every minute of your failure. She's there, waiting for you to put too much soil in a tray, waiting for you to over-saturate a flower pot. Because when you do, her fiery-eyes glare deep into your soul but her usual, up-beat voice still tells you not to worry. You're a nuisance to her, a contemptible speck in her little world of perfection who makes everything imperfect. Hell, unless you get 100% on just about anything, you're given Mama's unloved silver medal, second place; second to nothing.

The game revolves around gardening, would you believe. So as such you're planting things like flowers, trees and fruit. Each just as boring as the last, each just as non-educational as the last. Here was I expecting Mama to be this great instructor, a woman to take me to the promised land of perfect flower beds. Instead, what I get is a game which doesn't even have the kindness to have written instructions on what exactly I'm supposed to be doing. You're given some sometimes forgiving gestures to write on the touch screen like to wiggle something in the soil, to dig your trowel into soil or pull sprouts out of soil... Then you have your completely unforgiving gestures like making shapes in soil to water sprouts with. There's a bit where you have to draw a circle around a tree in order to create a trench, the symbol on the top screen was telling me to draw a circle clockwise. So I did. Nothing. Tried again. Nothing. Turns out you have to go from explicit 12-o-clock all the way around to 12 again. And although the symbol on the top screen doesn't join up, you better make sure your symbol does else it's an instant "nuh-uh" from the speakers. A circle is bad enough, now try a star shape (which happens when watering sprouts)... I'm expecting later in the game you have to draw a piece of contemporary art, in a predefined order, to get that "GURET, BETTER THAN MAMA" sound which you will crave so much.

It's the "Can you see the brim" game!
Other problems with the game is that it's trial and error on a massive scale. For instance, at one point I was asked to turn over soil in certain quantities indicated by what seemed to be two identical amounts of soil. Oh no, they were different amounts of soil all right. But the problem was, there is only one gesture for digging the soil out of the ground, a V-like shape. So I spent a good 5 minutes practising this level trying to work out why I was failing. It turns out that either how fast you dig the trowel into the ground or how fast you dig the trowel out of the ground determines how much soil is picked up when you finish the gesture. Nice. One problem, it doesn't always work out. I once did the 'quick' gesture to get a large amount of soil, but it just took a small amount instantly messing up my measurements. It's so inaccurate that half my 'quick' digs turned out 'slow' digs. But the problem is, I can't be sure if my technique is wrong or if the game's just inaccurate. There's absolutely NO instructions outside of those arrows showing how the drawing gesture is supposed to work. And to add insult to injury, these gestures have problems recognising ANY input whatsoever sometimes. An arrow points down in a particular way, it'll take 3 or 4 attempts to even get the damn thing to move.

There's also a bunch of other perspective-like failures in the game, such as moving a trowel full of soil over to a pot to put the soil in, if you put the end of the trowel over the end of the pot as if you were going to tip the soil in wheel-barrow-emptying style, the soil just misses the pot entirely and ends up on the table. You have to put that trowel over the whole pot so that one end of the trowel is basically over the far end of the pot and THEN the soil goes in, tipped sideways out... Also, pouring just about anything in the game is a pain, a good example was when I was trying to pour a serum-water-mix into a watering can. I went to go pour the water into the watering can, but failed to notice the brim on the watering can was much closer to the cup (which you couldn't move) than I had realised, so pouring the water just that bit too fast meant a bit of the serum went over the edge, in which you instantly failed this part of the gardening routine because the whole lot of the mixture has to be poured in. All because the visuals weren't striking enough on this particular level.

The very face of evil.
I do moan about all the glaring flaws to be had in this game and ponder just how casual gamers will react to this abysmal error-correction that's going on. But if this game is anything like the other Mama games, Taito will be laughing all the way to the bank. But hey, here's some good news. The game is kinda-sorta entertaining. It's not what I'd call fun, it's far too annoying to me for that, but hell, I spent a good hour and a half playing the game at one time. Okay, half of it was eye-rolling at making a gesture mistake for the umpteenth time and it was for the soul purpose of writing this review, but hey, it did a lot better than The Umbrella Chronicles which was reviewed in short bursts of 15 minutes. (A lot of which was just shouting at the screen. Poor screen.)

Side features in the game are fairly simple. You can decorate the garden which you're planting stuff in; by doing good gardening you get presents which can be used to decorate either the garden, mama or change how the game looks for you (change clock colours, trowel colours, etc). You can then collect treasures and share them over WiFi with others, dress up Mama (which is creepy in an unbelievable way... Sure hope there's not a hidden bikini mode...) and the ability to play gardening minigames with friends over local WiFi. You also have the ability to transfer a demo to other people's DS' and all that needless stuff.

Is that the small mound or the large mound?
What can I say about visuals... Well, the art direction in the game is clear and hardly ever waivers. However, reading text on the main menu nearly made my brain explode. The amount of colours is disorientating, that mixed with a font which blends beautifully into the background and you have yourself a squint-at-the-screen-hope-you-get-it-right scenario. Art in the game is usually very crisp and clear, usually artwork blending into one another... Which as previously mentioned isn't always a great thing. It's probably the best part of the game if I'm completely honest.

Sound isn't bad, nor is it very good... The music sounds the same, generic tune all the way through. Something which definitely gives the game some character, but at the same time bores the crap out of you. Can whoever is playing that music play anything other than a squeaky-trumpet? Then you have Mama's voice, which quite frankly is hilarious. It's obviously an Asian person speaking English, so you have these wonderfully mispronounced sentences which just seemed like an incoherent noise. It starts the second the game loads up with a voice which sounds something like this; "GARDEHINMAMAH" ... It took me all the way through the first gardening segment to realise what she said ("Gardening Mama", if you were unsure). I feel that in this scenario, a re-dub into English would have been for the best. However, the voice is pretty funny after a while.

While I didn't really take this review all too seriously, this game really isn't much good. It's a casual game for the casual gamers out there. I'm sure people who loved things like Brain Training or Picross but hated New Super Mario Bros. or Mario Kart will really love this game. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's some mindless fun, because some measure of thought has to be put into working out exactly how things work. I can't see many figuring out trowel-depth stuff by themselves, and many getting annoyed when drawing a clockwise circle. However, the game is a time waster and surely wont be played for over an hour like I did. If you have younger siblings who aren't that into games but have a DS and you're trying to think of a stocking filler at Christmas or for a Birthday, this is the game for you. Everyone else would do good to just ignore this game even exists.