Taking a look at the Cooking and Gardening Mama games, it's obvious that developer Office Create knows how to take menial tasks and turn them into surprisingly engaging video games. Though North America hasn't seen a new title featuring Mama on a Nintendo platform in the past year (the latest release was a little more recent in Europe), the developer recently released a new game with similar mechanics on the 3DS eShop titled Johnny's Payday Panic. It's dramatically different from the Mama series thematically, but fans of the aforementioned minigame collections are sure to get a kick out of this one as well.
Getting right to the point, protagonist Johnny is not very bright. His goal in life is to be a Big Shot, and he thinks that he can achieve this status by working multiple minimum wage jobs and purchasing lavish gifts for himself. The underlying premise here is that to be cool you have to look cool, and the best way to do that is to spend a lot of money on items that will make others think you're wealthy. It's consumerism and image crafting at its finest, but Johnny's Payday Panic presents it in a tongue-in-cheek way that pokes fun at the idea of status making the man.
Just like the Mama games, all of the gameplay here is divided into a series of five minigames, each of which is based on a different part-time job. If five doesn't seem like a lot of different games available, that's because it isn't. Thankfully, all of the minigames are different enough from each other that they're each worth playing. As you work each job more and more, your rate of pay and will increase and you'll have to take on additional responsibilities, mostly manifesting in having to work longer shifts. Conversely, if you don't regularly show up to a jobsite your ranking and wages will decrease. Just like in life, what you get out of your jobs depends on what you put in, and this mechanic doubles as a clever way for the game to softly force you into rotating between minigames rather than grinding on one to make all of your money.
The entirety of gameplay takes place on the 3DS's touchscreen, making very good use of the console's hardware. Rather than relying on small taps and precision, the minigames here focus more on swipes and large gestures that the 3DS is sensitive enough to read. It's unfortunate that other features of the 3DS, such as the gyroscope and microphone, aren't put to use, but the touch-based controls manage to provide a fulfilling interactive experience. Whether you're scooping ice cream or mixing noodles at the Ramen Shop, all five of the available games make good use of the 3DS's touch controls and genuinely feel intuitive.
Beyond playing well, Johnny's Payday Panic also looks great. Implementing a cartoony art style with vibrant colours, the look of this game manages to reflect its humour in a way that works to enhance the overall appeal. The console's 3D effect is used to add a little depth to the figures displayed on the top screen, but as all of the action is frantically happening on the bottom there's every chance that this will go mostly unnoticed. Regardless, small touches like this show that much care was put not only into the gameplay, but the presentation as well.
If there's anything negative to be said about this game it's that there simply isn't enough content to make a really lasting impression. It's a lot of fun to play in bursts, and the five minigames genuinely do feel unique, but there isn't much to keep you hooked once you've mastered each job. Johnny's Payday Panic is a very satisfying experience, but don't expect it to last you as long as a larger collection of games.
Overall, Johnny's Payday Panic is a fantastic collection of minigames that makes great use of the 3DS hardware. It's a nice looking package with a sense of humour that plays well, but the limited number of available activities will definitely be a turnoff for some. If you're looking for something lighthearted to play in short but energetic bursts, this collection of touch-based minigames is sure to get the job done.