One of the great ironies of videogaming is the amount of leisure time we devote to the simulation of vocations. The amount of time I’ve soaked into the SimCity series is likely close to the number of hours required for a successful city planner campaign in the real world. On my iphone alone, I’ve followed a number of occupational pursuits, from running a restaurant in Dinner Dash, managing a beauty parlor in Sally’s Salon, and been a construction foreman in TowerBloxx, to take a break from my ‘real’ tasks.
Undoubtedly, we can trace the popularity of the industrial simulation to Mama. Three years ago, players all over the world rightfully enjoyed the Cooking Mama series. The original game combined a collection of involving minigames with an adorable cartoon aesthetic, presenting a diversion that has spawned a number of culinary sequels for the DS, Wii, and Iphone. With Majesco’s recent Nintendo DS release, Gardening Mama, our beloved chef has left the confines of the kitchen, to tend to the local flora.
Whereas Cooking Mama allowed players to progress at a leisurely pace, gradually unlocking new recipes after each successful dish, Gardening Mama offers a more stimulating velocity. Players are required to plant, cultivate, and maintain multiple gardens. Beyond lead character Mama, the game’s floral and vegetable patches are the game’s secondary stars- each can be groomed and decorated to the player’s liking. Within a few hours, our yard was decorated with colorful flower beds, pots bursting with flora, and garden gnomes. The title cultivates a sensation that there is a constant set of tasks required by the player, as plants wither, bugs invade, and pruning is required.
Much like our matriarch’s gastronomic pastime, Gardening Mama employs a number of simple taps, slides, and motions to simulate backyard planting and preservation. Each individual diversion is broken down into a series of micro-steps, from digging holes in the soil, planting, watering, and pruning. A majority of the games simulate real world activities, while others are fantastically improbable. A watering diversion had us drawing shapes on the bottom screen to create a series of interlocking rainbows.
Mama’s one shortcoming has been her unvarying ambiguity- she’ll give general directions, but rarely offers the specific information necessary to successfully complete a task. With the Cooking Mama games, there were a handful of kitchen related tasks, from cutting, stirring, and sautéing that encompassed the majority to kitchen tasks. Gardening offers a myriad of actions, so initially players may be a bit perplexed by how to execute Mama’s equivocal requests. On screen arrows and iconic direction assist the player, but occasional I stumbled upon a garden quandary. In one type of minigame, players are requested to mix a specified amount of soil. Scooping soil from the ground to the mixing bed is accomplished by a diagonal swipe of the stylus, but controlling the amount of soil proved to be elusive. Short strokes weren’t recognized, and longer strokes added an excess amount of dirt, that resulted in failure. We would have appreciated if some of these minigames were more cerebral, offering a Brain Training-like problem for the gamer to overcome. Graphically, Gardening Mama presents a charming, cartoonish world full of pastel colors, and chirpy tunes. Although Mama has a limited amount of sound bites, her heavily accented and cheerful delivery always produces a smile.
During my time with Gardening Mama, I became captivated by the seemingly boundless set of tasks required to keep my plant life flourishing. Despite a few niggling control issues, my time in the garden was largely enjoyable, primarily thanks to Mama’s simplicity and lively graphical presentation. Fans of the series will undoubtedly enjoy the amount of ‘growth’ displayed in this backyard diversion; it’s a return to form from Mama’s recent string of minor setbacks on the iPhone and Wii.