Our bright-eyed Mama is back and this time instead of breaking eggs, mixing ingredients and needing dough to make mouth watering recipes, your task is to grow a garden that rivals Eden. As with the entire Mama series this final goal will be accomplished by beating an entourage of mini games. These in concordance with previous titles will be broken down into step-by-step instructions. For example, planting seeds requires you to open the packet, pour out the correct amount of seeds to then plant them neatly into the ground. Don't be fooled though; although they sound simple, these tasks can be thorny.
The step-by-step instructions follow exactly the same structure as before with the only difference being the environment you play in. However, Gardening Mama brings an interesting variation to the original formula. In Cooking Mama you could pick any dish to make, work it through and your job was done. In Gardening Mama however, once you have picked your flowers you must constantly tend to them to avoid wilting. As such, it would be ambitious to try and grow too many at once as you run the risk of disaster.
Furthermore, due to the constantly evolving nature of a garden it is harder to achieve a perfect score in Gardening Mama. As mentioned earlier, you performed a singular set of instructions in Cooking Mama to accomplish your finished dish. Whereas in Gardening Mama a completed set of flowers, trees or fruits is only attained after a long chain of tasks that builds on the previous steps. So to accomplish a maximum score you will need to be perfect the whole way through, (talk about pressure) yet this seems to detract away from Cooking Mama's relaxed appeal.
An area we wish wasn’t so parallel within the two games is the somewhat vague instructions you receive before performing a task. One particular example that had us nearly shouting in frustration was “mixing the right amount of soil”. In this task the player is told how much soil – in kilograms - they need to add to the tray. What Gardening Mama decides not to tell you is how one alters the amount of dirt shovelled into the tray. We ended up randomly slashing at the screen in hope of shovelling the correct amount. This is not only frustrating, but it forces you to do the 'practice' option. Now, you’d think this would solve all your problems. Yet all it does is exacerbate them. As the practice option gives you no more instructions then the in-game instructions, so you simply end up bashing the screen until something works.
In spite of that, Gardening Mama isn’t just a game to annoy but one you can share with your friends. Gardening Mama has a simple-single-cart multi-player mode which allows you to go head to head with other green-fingered fellows. The task is straightforward: the player and a friend race against each other to see who can complete the gardening tasks the fastest. Furthermore, it is not a requirement to have already completed the tasks in single player to gain access to them in multi-player. Thus multi-player is kept accessible, and permits an individual who has never played the game to enjoy the full experience.
One of Gardening Mama's most captivating features is the endearing artwork and absolutely adorable sound effects. Now when we say adorable we're referring to Mama’s quintessentially Japanese accent. This - even after pulling your hair out - is more than enough to make up for the terrible instructions, and leaves you feeling proud of your accomplishments. And if this is not enough, as we mentioned before, the artwork in Gardening Mama is truly heart warming.
If you've played Cooking Mama and enjoyed its childish charm and simple fun then Gardening Mama is definitely for you. However, for those who haven't (or more serious gamers) Gardening Mama will offer you no real challenge or depth. The controls are too simplistic to be engaging and the absence of instructions can lead this casual game into frustrating territory. Nevertheless, even with the simplistic controls and lack of guidance the player will still feel that same sense of accomplishment and pride when you master Mama’s tasks.