Gardening Mama Nintendo DS review

A game for those who don’t have green fingers in reality, but don’t expect anything too challenging as Gardening Mama’s a bit of a softie

I recently moved to a new flat. Exciting? Yes, I know, but there’s more. This new flat has a lovely little balcony which in my mind’s eye is already a fully blossoming oasis, full of roses and violets and vegetables, growing merrily in the sunshine. In reality, there’s a slightly shabby looking Sunflower and some even shabbier looking peas, trying but failing to grow one more inch before the pigeons get them, or I forget to water them. It was this mix of passion and pure ineptitude for gardening that drew me towards Gardening Mama, as I was desperately hoping to succeed in make-believe, where I’d failed so miserably in reality.

Gardening Mama is a direct descendant of Cooking Mama and so embodies the same basic game structure. You choose a plant to grow, twiddle your stylus around the DS screen and then are rated by a smiling or slightly psychotic Mama, depending on your success. This pick up, play then p*ss off approach works well for the Mama franchise and makes it a very popular title among the casual gamer market.

But it can also be seen as its greatest weakness, as one of the major problems with Cooking Mama came from the game’s lack of progression. I myself love cooking and love casual DS Games and so should have been their perfect target market. But even I found Cooking Mama infuriating because, after hours of chopping, dicing and slicing, I found I had very little to show for it in the greater scheme of things.

Gardening Mama tries to address this in several ways. Firstly, it creates a mini, visual house and garden so you can see the plants you’re tending to grow. This means you can see your garden becoming full and can enjoy seeing your hard work flourish. You’re also kept up to date on how your plants are doing and are asked to revisit to keep them happy and bug free. This really helps gives the impression that you’re building towards a larger goal, rather than just doing one unconnected task after another. Another simple yet effective technique is that as you complete each plant, you unlock new areas and characters, rather than just new plants. A small and seemingly obvious tactic to keep the game flowing smoothly, but it works.

Ad – content continues below

That said there are still flaws with Gardening Mama, some of which are made even more annoying as they could have been so easily fixed. For example, the difficulty level is static throughout, a problem also evident in Cooking Mama. This means there’s never any real challenge in what you’re doing, you simply finish wiggling the stylus to complete one plant, then move on and do pretty much the same thing with the next. Not that it would matter very much if you didn’t do the swishy, choppy, wiggly movements efficiently, as Mama will only scorn you then fix it for you, which doesn’t exactly help the feeling that you’re just going through the motions instead of achieving a truly well-earned, king-of-all-gardeners status.

Another infuriating problem that really set my teeth a grinding was the bonus present round. If you complete your wiggling in a set amount of time, you get a bonus. Get three bonuses and you get a present! Yay, right? Well, only if you like watching the same, slow moving clip, over and over, before receiving a completely pointless treat which, to add insult to injury, you sometimes already have! The problem is that these bonuses are not really bonuses as much as they’re part of the game. They’re not hard to achieve and the entire sequence plays itself out so slowly that I started to attempt sabotage, just so I could avoid them.

Despite all these criticisms, I did love Gardening Mama. I picked up it and then didn’t put it down for a good few hours. I think when viewed as a hobby, rather than a challenge, the game can be fun. Although it’s still very much set in its casual game ways, Gardening Mama is a definite step up from its predecessor and a definite recommendation if you liked the first. However, I still think Mama has some lessons to learn before she turns a really fantastic gaming idea, into a really fantastic game.


3 out of 5