It seems eating well really does make you look years younger - and with her varied diet, combined with Japan's love of cute, the titular Mama has always looked young. Despite her title, I'd actually always thought she looked about twelve, and the 'Mama' was a weird term of endearment - but she actually has two young children! It's these children - a girl, Ichigo, and boy, Ringo - that you get to play as in the latest instalment in the spin-off Cooking Mama World series, which sees the family going camping. Obviously, after all that gardening, crafts and babysitting they could do with a holiday...
Outdoor Adventures is a bit of a departure from the usual pick a recipe and play through the corresponding mini-games formula - but it'll still be very familiar to anyone who's played a Mama game. Each stage shows you a top-down view of a maze-like arrangement of hedges, themed around the various parts of the island, from mountains to forests to beaches. As you make your way through each maze, you'll be hacking your way through long grass, avoiding wild animals and tracking down treasure chests as you make your way to the end of the level.
But before you can reach Mama or Papa at the end, there's a variety of tasks you'll need to complete to help you on your way - like collecting scattered pieces of firewood, or retrieving some bananas in order to bribe a monkey to shift out your way. Each level has two primary mini-games that count towards your final score for that level (not including the extra, non-essential mini-games you find), which focus on cooking and camping-related activities, like building a camp fire, catching fish to cook, or making a net and catching butterflies (not to cook). On top of the main mini-games, there are a few bonus hidden mini-games that you can find by shaking trees or catching a special, differently-coloured monkey/bee/snake, often centred around catching falling fruit or racing the aforementioned animals. For the most part, you'll need to avoid the various creatures that roam the levels though, as they can damage you, knocking off one of your eight hearts - and when all those run out, you'll have to restart the level from the beginning. Thankfully, extra hearts are plentiful, so having to restart the level is a fairly rare occurrence.
This being a Cooking Mama game, a lot of the mini-games are fairly similar to those that have come before, only this time with the food preparation swapped for more camping-related activities. A fair few of the mini-games centre around simple 'catching stuff as it drops', with a couple of variations thrown in for good measure. For example, you may be moving a pair of hands across the bottom of the screen with the stylus to catch apples that fall from the top, avoiding the prickly chestnut burrs that like to hide amongst the apples, as they'll cause you to drop the apples you're holding. Or you might help harvest some vine tomatoes, which line up at the top of the screen, and you'll need to cut at the right time to make them fall into the constantly moving basket.
Another favourite is chopping wood for the camp fire, where logs dash onto the screen, ready for you to swipe at with your axe - occasionally interspersed with a crafty rock that nips in to try to fool you, before you give it a quick 'move along' swipe. Some of the mini-games are basically digital reincarnations of other popular games, too, which should ensure your children are never left stumped about what they have to do - like in pairs, where you're turning over leaves to find matching pairs of ladybirds, or the whack-a-mole-esque game where you're touching the bees as they pop out of the nest to give them a shot of honey.
If you don't fancy trudging through the area to find a game you've already played, or just want to replay one of the mini-games to get a better score, the 'Challenges' section of the menu lets you revisit any of the mini-games you've already played and unlocked. The 'Books' option, on the other hand, brings up a series of scrap-book like lists of all the treasure, fish, insects and cooking recipes you've acquired on your travels, and completely filling up these books may make you want to replay some of the stages to find anything you may have missed the first time through.
Overall, Cooking Mama: Outdoor Adventures is a nice change of pace from the usual mini-game after mini-game of the cookery games, giving you the opportunity to explore a series of maze-like stages to find hidden treasures, like furniture for your camp site. But it doesn't forget that the people who like the Cooking Mama games are those that play it for the simple mini-games - and they're all present and correct too. What is a bit of a shame that you can't arrange the furniture you find and customise your camp site - it's nice to see it evolve as you find more stuff, but with no reason to return for a bit of interior (or is it exterior?) design, you're unlikely to notice it much. Concessions have been made to try and appeal to boys a bit more with the inclusion of Mama's son Ringo, and less of a trend towards pink and hearts and such, but it's still a game more aimed towards younger girls. That doesn't mean it's a definite no-go for the lads though, as they'll still likely have a lot of fun with the mini-games on offer, if they can get past the 'ewwwww girly-ness' of enjoying a game from the 'Cooking Mama' series.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS