The Bottom Line: Only die-hard fans, or kids that don't know better, will get any appreciation out of this game.
I had high hopes for Gardening Mama, the latest entry in the "Mama" franchise by Majesco Entertainment. The previous entries of Cooking Mama and Cooking Mama 2 were well designed, controlled easily, and a great pick-up-and-play game for all ages. Gardening Mama strays a bit from that formula.
Gardening Mama's concept is straightforward - proceed through the necessary steps to grow and maintain various plants in your garden. The always-cheery Mama will give you the required tasks in tiny, baby steps each taking only a few seconds to complete. Also, the game is played entirely with the touch screen and stylus. This makes it ideal for short gaming sessions, or for teaching a new player the mechanics of using the touch screen on the Nintendo DS.
Your gardens are comprised of smaller flowerboxes on screen, each containing an individual type of plant, such as a rose bush or tomato plantling. There are a total of 37 varieties of flowers, trees, and fruits. Each of these plants will need your attention constantly. You will plant the seeds, water the seedlings, transplant them from pots, and harvest blooms and fruit. The biggest problem with this is that as soon as Plant A has been tended, you can start with Plant B, but as soon as Plant B is done, Plant A needs your immediate attention again, making it awkward to actually progress on to other plants.
The idea is great, but the biggest failure is the controls. Every part is either not sensitive enough or far too sensitive. In transplanting seedlings from pots to the ground, a small "shaking" movement on the touch screen did nothing, while an only slightly harder shake broke the plant in half, resulting in utter gardening failure as far as Mama was concerned. Watering requires a small circular motion at a very particular speed and curve. I was only able to accomplish this about 50% of the time. Planting the seeds - Ooops! Too far in the ground - was equally as bad, as was watering and several other tasks. At the end, Mama gives you "points" on an undisclosed grading scale. Getting a higher score allows you to advance in the game.
Bits of filler add some extended play to the game. There is a Decorate the Garden mode where you can *ahem* Decorate Your Garden with items you earned through playing the game. You can also dress Mama with cool accessories like sunglasses.
I have to admit, I didn't fully finish the game. At the higher levels the shoddy controls became so frustrating within the time limits that I was given. My son tried as well and couldn't even get past the starting levels, let alone as far as I had gotten. In fairness, he's a bit young for the game at just 5 years old, but he was able to play the Cooking Mama games with no problem, so I expected the same. The target age range for Gardening Mama is 8 and up. This game also supports up to four player multiplayer, which I did not get to try.
The graphics are cutesy, coloring book style - functional and easy to work with. Bold lines and bright colors define the style of the Mama games. The music and sound effects are unobtrusive, but does not stand out either. It's just enough to not make you want to mute the entire sound. Happy chirps of flute punctuate a win, with a whiny guitar-ish sound noting a loss.
For $30 I would not purchase this game. At $20, I may reconsider. The glaring flaws make this a budget title at best, and it truly leaves a poor mark on a series that I typically can't wait to dive in to. Fans of the series will likely be disappointed.
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About the reviewer
Tina Duncan (bunniesnbuggies)
Always super busy mom to a very energetic kid and a very devilish cat. Forever starting new hobbies and working on old ones. In my spare time I enjoy reading, video games, World Of Warcraft … more
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Gardening Mama transforms the stylus into a universal gardening tool that players will use to plant, nurture and harvest 37 different varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Gamers can manage their garden through the seeding, blooming and maturation phases, and then produce items from the plants they've grown.