- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

A monotonously steady rainfall has kept all but the most hearty mid-Atlantic area gardeners inside recently. For all those still needing to flex their green thumbs, Gardening With Mama (for DS, from Majesco Entertainment, $29.99) has a player digging in the virtual dirt, acting as an apprentice for the famous Cooking With Mama character and her pals.

The stylus becomes a shovel, hoe, watering can, tongs and a variety of other tools necessary to prepare the soil, plant and nurture 37 different plants. By following on-screen directions, players are able to dig dirt, fertilize and spray their flower, vegetable and fruit beds, among other earthy chores.

Virtual gardeners find themselves tasked with plenty of real-life skills and the work is pretty true to life. For example, when planting the morning glory seeds, you have to score the seed hull and then stake the growing plant as it is a prolific climber. When planting roses, you have to remove the dirt ball from the roots and skillfully drop the plants into a bucket of water.

One game requires that you scatter the pansy seeds, which are very small and very light, before the wind blows them out of your hand.

Get the flowers growing, and new areas open — namely the orchard and the vegetable gardens.

As gardens grow, individual beds need tending: weeding, pruning, watering and such. Once you have multiple beds, it becomes a stress-filled juggling act. Panic sets in as the squash and tulips wilt while the player tends the roses. If he doesn’t get to the plants in need quickly enough, they will wilt, wither and die.

None of the games are difficult for the average 8-year-old multitasker, however, I kept forgetting to watch the DS dual screen to know what to do.

As the gardens grow, blossom, bear fruit and attract friendly insects, players who cleanly accomplish tasks also earn decorative items such as fences, pots, new flower varieties and more to decorate their area. And because no one wants to be a shabby gardener, players also can dress up the iconic Mama, changing her head wear, glasses, hair, clothing and other accessories to match her, or your, mood.

As is, Gardening With Mama is a fun little game and not much else. Tasks become repetitive quickly and it comes down to being able to complete skills, beat the timer and avoid the “That’s OK, Mama fix it” reprimand.

Also, it is a bit disappointing that developers did not take the opportunity to make the game educational. Would a species encyclopedia have been so hard to incorporate? Some basic information on the plants, whether they need sun or shade and the right time of year to plant would have gone a long way in making this title better.

It is a game that can be shared with friends who also have Gardening With Mama. Compete to harvest the most fruits and vegetables or share and trade items from topiaries to jam. Ultimately, though, Gardening With Mama is a fun diversion, but it is mainly a solo player experience.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.