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TGS 2008: Gardening Mama Hands-on

"Mama is back, and this time, she's set her sights on the great outdoors. "

TOKYO--Cooking Mama was a surprise hit when first released, charming gamers with its collection of culinary minigames on the Nintendo DS. Several sequels later, Mama has expanded her empire onto the Wii and is set to expand globally with next year's World Kitchen.

However, it seems that your fiery-eyed mistress of all things epicurean isn't satisfied with keeping a watchful eye over your knife technique and whisking speed--she's decided to move to an even more fundamental area of food production: the garden.

In the not-at-all-surprisingly named Gardening Mama for the DS, you are charged with cultivating all manner of plants under Mama's tutelage, and we wasted no time grabbing a virtual trowel once we had located it in Taito's booth at this year's Tokyo Game Show.

In Gardening Mama, you take your plants right from seed to fruition through a series of minigames--all of which are rendered in the style of the recipes in Cooking Mama. A few strokes of the stylus across the top of a seed packet gets you going, and after some quick work with a scalpel to help your seeds out of their husks later on, you're ready to start planting. Starting with a little seed box, we made miniature furrows with horizontal strokes before timing the seed drops so that the box wasn't too crowded.

Then it was time to give them some water--but not too much! We were a little over eager with the watering can, left our seedlings in some standing water, and were greeted by Mama's fiery eyes. Things were not going well. Thankfully, no matter how poorly you do on any given stage, you always have a full complement of plants when it's time for the next one.

As your plants grow, there are a sequence of other minigames that feature the potting of your seedlings and more watering before it's time to head into the garden. First, you need to pour a bag of compost to ensure there's room for all your plants, then after digging a hole, you remove the plants from their pots and have to gently remove the excess earth from their pot-bound roots. Placing them in the hole and shoveling the removed earth back over, you may feel a strange feeling of satisfaction of a horticultural job well done, but you're not done yet.

Your plants now need stakes in the ground to help them grow properly, and having done that, you can see why Mama insisted--there's a storm coming! As the wind and rain batter your poor crops, you need to push the stakes harder into the ground with each gust. As they keep coming faster and faster, the game starts to feel like a weird agricultural version of whack-a-mole.

Having done that, it's time to give your plants one final water with the hosepipe sprayer in the bright sunshine...especially given the possibilities for creating your own rainbows. You have to spray water over your plants in a series of shapes as directed by Mama, which can be anything from circles to triangles and all manner of overlapping arcs. If you get a successful shape, you're rewarded with that most pleasant of sights in nature--a rainbow.

And just like that, your plants are fully grown. Not bad for an editor who has never managed to even keep a cactus alive for more than three weeks.

Posted on Oct 10, 2008



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