Review: Camping Mama: Outdoor Adventures

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Majesco’s video game Mama is a woman of many talents. Her forte is cooking, but she’s also a whiz at the crafting table, a caring babysitter, and quite the green thumb in the garden. Now she and her stud-muffin Papa are going on a family camping trip. Seriously, what can’t this super-mother do?

In typical Mama fashion, Camping Mama is a mini-game bonanza consisting of right around 100 activities that’ll have you merrily tapping, flicking, and sliding away on the touch screen, typically for no more than 30 seconds to a minute at any given time. On your camping adventure, you can expect to perform a variety of outdoorsy duties that would make any Boy or Girl Scout troop leader proud. Fishing, chopping wood and building a campfire, rafting, catching bugs, toasting marshmallows for s’mores – the list goes on.

The mini-games are quick-hitting, colorfully presented, easy to control, and generally good, clean fun. However, it’s strange that so few actually revolve around camping. Those I mentioned above certainly do, but the overwhelming majority are either retreads from Mama’s other venues (digging for potatoes and picking eggplant sounds more like Gardening Mama to me, and peeling bananas and cutting mangoes is straight out of Cooking Mama); the same basic mini-game template recycled with different objects (the slide-the-basket-left-and-right collection game is rehashed at least four or five times, just with falling nuts in place of apples, carrots in place of nuts, bananas in place of carrots, etc.); or odd jobs that feel way out of place in this setting. How does catching ghosts and stuffing them into a box or flinging crowns onto animals’ heads as they pop out of bushes relate to camping? Answer: they don’t, and there are many others that don’t make a whole lot of sense. At times I almost got the sense that the developers came up with the camping concept on a whim, without first considering whether they could think of enough original content to make it work.

What’s also disappointing is how skimpy the developers were with the more complex challenges. As in previous Mama games, certain activities require multiple steps that add up to one main goal. For instance, one task involves creating a slingshot over three separate but connected mini-games. You trim the leaves and smaller limbs off a branch in step one, cut a piece of leather into the pellet pocket in step two, and then in step three you stretch the rubber bands to attach to the pocket. There are a few other multi-stage games for creating homemade survival tools, like a fishing pole and a bug catching net, and it is at these moments when the game shows flashes of excellence. I just wanted more of them.

Where Camping Mama succeeds most is in its structure. As mini-games are completed, they can be replayed ad nauseum in the Challenge mode, but to unlock them you must first play through the Explore mode. Explore mode is a full-sized adventure campaign that plays out like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on vacation.

As Mama’s son or daughter, you explore an island divided into 36 levels and viewed from a top-down perspective, using the d-pad or stylus to guide them along. The main objective in each level is to reach Mama or Papa on the other side of the map and complete their final mini-game challenge, but in order to reach them you must navigate mazes of trees, rocks and other wilderness obstacles crawling with angry animals waiting to eat away at your heart-filled health bar. Treasure chests are hidden throughout — some containing collectible badges or furnishings to decorate your campground home base with — and you can chop through tufts of grass to reveal heart pick-ups. Certain animals you stumble upon even activate mini-game battles like random encounters in a classic JRPG (good performance fills health by a heart, bad performance knocks a heart off).

Explore mode eats up a solid six hours of play time, and individual levels can always be replayed to improve medal ranking or to find treasures missed the first time around. Everything collected on your adventure is also cataloged in a picture book, rewarding the player in a way similar to a Boy/Girl Scout receiving merit badges. The setup is fantastic, but sadly the game doesn’t quite have enough original, topical mini-games to fill such a quest without tedium setting in towards the end.

Camping Mama is a fun but frivolous game, coming together more like a ‘Miscellaneous Mama’ amalgamation of parts from previous titles rather than delivering a focused collection of camping activities. If you’ve played with Mama before or enjoy stylus-based mini-games, chances are you’ll still get a kick out of Majesco’s latest offering here, and despite the loose camping theme I can totally see this game putting a great, big smile on the face of any Boy or Girl Scout. Being a Boy Scout myself when I was younger, I really wanted to embrace this game. But in the end, Camping Mama is far too familiar to earn our highest badge of merit.

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Pros:
+ Zelda-like Explore mode quest
+ Pick-up-and-play mini-games are quick and fun
+ Colorful, charming graphics

Cons:
– Most mini-games are too similar to previous Mama games
– Mini-games often rehash the same design template or seem out of place
– Very few multi-step activities

Affiliate Links:
Buy from Amazon or eStarland

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Release Date: 9/13/2011
Genre: Mini-games
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4 (single-card download play)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!