Science Papa Review
When Activision's lab sim Science Papa was announced in 2008, the gaming public's reaction was less than enthusiastic. Being completely unrelated to Majesco's Cooking Mama franchise, the game was seen as a blatant rip-off and expectations of it were correspondingly low. In Science Papa you take on the role of a young lab assistant working for an Einsteinian genius called, not surprisingly, “Science Papa”. Your job is to work in his lab fulfilling email orders for various chemical thingies while preparing to compete against other scientists for the prestigious Helix award.
From the outset, Science Papa's indebtedness to Cooking Mama is obvious; the difference is that you're making smoke bombs instead of sushi. Using a range of scientific equipment: beakers, ovens, microscopes and one not-so-scientific item called “the everything machine”, you work your way through various experiments, earning money and reputation. Experiments range from the simple two-step to the complex ten-step and result in things like weed killer and hair dye. (It would be awesome if you could intentionally mix those two up.) Experiments are timed and scores depend on performing each step to perfection, within the given time frame.
The stylus is used much like in Cooking Mama, to pour and stir liquids, separate specimens, pound things into dust and turn equipment on and off. Some processes take more finesse and onscreen meters let you know when something's reached--or passed--its proper state. Each order you fill earns you money and reputation, both of which are needed to enter into competition against other scientists. When you've gathered enough money and rep, you go up against one of Science Papa's cronies, scientists in different fields with “clever” names like “Dinah Soros” (One guess what she does.) These boss battles are ultimately disappointing because although you can disrupt your opponents' experiments by tossing rather unsporting bombs at them during the competition, you're doing the exact same experiments you've done already in the main game. The good news is, these boss battles are easily beaten and winning them gives you a good chunk of cash as well as a questionable “reward” --i.e., a useless item like a dinosaur skeleton or a hologram that you can look at in the rewards menu.
Fortunately, money is more useful than rewards and can be used to buy new experiment recipes and better, faster equipment. The strange thing about this and about Science Papa's progression is that in a couple of instances, higher level equipment is actually slower than its lower level counterpart and many of the high level gadgets remove the skill factor entirely. These machines run on their own and give you a perfect score for whatever step you use them on. This means that rather than honing your skills in a game that gets progressively more challenging, you'll find that the more high level equipment you've bought, the more you become a passive button-pusher.
This lack of challenge becomes a serious issue as the game progresses. The automated equipment not only makes the main game too easy, and the boss battles a yawn-fest, it draws attention to the repetitive nature of the game as a whole. Everything you do seems to involve performing the same handful of experiments again and again. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd think tedium was an intentional theme in Science Papa. Grinding for reputation and money is a mainstay of the game and you're invited to make use of a pointless practice mode that lets you do experiments for reputation but no money. Considering the amount of money you'll need for equipment and competition entrance fees, you're better off fulfilling the unbearably dull email orders whose limited number soon becomes all too apparent. It's sad the development team couldn't have inserted additional mission text here because it might have done a little something to ward off total boredom.
Another area where text might have helped matters is in the dialog. If Science Papa isn't entertaining, it might at least teach us a little something about science. No such luck. The game utterly lacks any interesting scientific nuggets which makes its limited entertainment appeal inexcusable. Oh, and let's not forget the bad soundtrack. And when I say “track”, I mean it. There's one maddening track that plays over and over, eventually forcing you to wad the game manual up and stuff it in your ears. In closing, a bit of trivia about Science Papa: it was developed by Mad Monkey Studios and published by Activision but curiously enough, neither of these companies lists this game on their website. It's as if neither company wanted to take responsibility for the game or even be associated with it.
Cooking Mama may have been criticized for lack of depth but Science Papa makes the Cooking Mama series look like the Lord of the Rings of handheld games. At least Cooking Mama has unlockable recipes and a wide range of different mini-game activities going for it while everything you need to know about Science Papa you'll find out (and be bored with) in ten minutes. Plagued by shallow, monotonous gameplay and an annoyingly repetitive soundtrack, Science Papa seems to have gone out of its way to fulfill low gamer expectation.