The 'Mama' series is renowned for being a huge success on the more casual side of the gaming market, most famously for the Cooking Mama series which doesn't actually involve preparing the titular character for consumption. It's inevitable then that Mama would take additional avenues in her quest for motion-controlled dominance, and Gardening Mama 2: Forest Friends is in fact the second game that involves taking care of flora.
As simplistic as the Mama series is, it allowed whoever was playing it to learn something about the subject matter, whether it was how to prepare a lasagne or how to safely transport seedlings from one place to another. These educational mini games are hardly comprehensive but they were at least relatively helpful, and in the original Gardening Mama these games were often centred around the plants that you'd brought to life. Unfortunately, Forest Friends detaches that entirely.
The mini games are still as bountiful as ever, but they all involve leaving your garden – sometimes even getting on a plane – and helping someone else who can't be bothered to perform a basic gardening task, such as sorting aubergines from tangerines. If you're successful in your fruit-sorting endeavours you'll be gifted with a limitless supply of one of the plants you were toying with to plant as you see fit. Between these simple mini games you'll be hounded by strange anthropomorphic animals with debatable business strategies who ask you to supply them with fruit, vegetables, or flowers to help their business flourish. It is amusing seeing dozens of semi-human like figures losing their inhibitions over four tulips, but it all feels a bit commercial.
You don't even get paid for your products, only given 'shopping tokens' once enough of the items you supplied have been sold. These can be exchanged for decorative items that change the appearance of your garden, but don't get any ideas about being able to place everything freely. Most of the items you purchase can only replace currently existing items such as paving or fencing, with only a handful of ornaments and fountains that can be put wherever you want.
And that's it unfortunately - the aim of the game is simply to grow plants and give them to misinformed entrepreneurial rabbits and penguins. The removal of the mini games being focused around your plants and your efforts is crippling, and now all mini games feel like a distraction from your main growing duties, which is a disappointing hollow experience. Once you've got into the habit of planting, watering and repeating, the gardening element is all but complete. There are still some basic real-life skills to be learnt from some of the mini games, but you're not given any context as to why you're doing them, and many of them don't involve any real gardening at all. If you replaced the apples and melons with anything else the experience in most of the mini games would be the same.
This title is very bright and appealing to look at for a while, but the lack of any real animation means that the characters rapidly lose any sense of personality that they may have had. If it weren't for Mama's face plastered everywhere, this could be any cheap, child-friendly title from 2009. Children may well find some entertainment in this game, but it would be short-lived, as there's no real reward for any of your efforts, and no real sense of achievement for any of your actions.
Gardening Mama 2: Forest Friends is a hollow, repetitive experience that doesn't belong in the Mama series. This is a game that will wear thin quickly, even for young children, but should there have been a useful educational side to it we could have forgiven it. Unfortunately the informative and instructional mini games are all but gone and replaced by dull, uninspired distractions. Disappointing all over.