Viva Pinata Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 8.0
Review by Mardsen Connell
Creating a game that is appealing to both adults and younger players is quite a challenge. Think about it: the game would have simple (yet layered and rich) gameplay mechanics, visual style and presentation that were striking and perhaps subtly ironic, and a story that made sense to children but didn’t feel moronic to adults. Finally, it would have to eschew some of the standbys of “mature” oriented games—you know: violence, sex, and profanity—in favor of mining a rarer gem: genuine fun.

Such games are rare on any platform, but have been almost entirely missing from the shooter-and-sports heavy Xbox 360, which is why Viva Piñata is such a welcome release. It’s a great game and it has something for just about everyone to love. It’s colorful, cute, funny, and addictive. Oh, and sex and violence aren’t entirely missing either.

Gameplay

Viva Piñata is, in essence, part RTS game, and part city builder. The player is given a plot of land on Piñata Island and tasked to develop it into a garden that will attract various species of Piñata: living, breathing, eating, and breeding (!) versions of the candy-filled party favors. Do a good job, create optimal conditions, and rarer species of Piñata will appear and thrive.

Your little island is hopping with helpful characters who sell you seeds, tools, and housing. They can also heal your ill Piñata, bring eggs to expectant creatures, or even curse and sicken them (the evil Dastardos). Thanks to these helpful and amusing residents and a well implemented journal system, you are rarely at a loss for what to do next or how to do it.

Like “grownup” RTS and sim games, the better you do, the more stuff you have access to: new and interesting seeds (which grow into plants that attract certain Piñata), tools, and items you can buy like “Romance candy” which helps the Piñata fall in love a little quicker. At every turn, these abilities and upgrades are presented with style and wit. Kids are smart, and they know when they are being condescended to. Viva Piñata is less like the Wiggles, and more like John Belushi in a giant bumblebee costume.

One of the best things about Viva Piñata’s gameplay is the subtlety of the ecology and relationships between the Piñatas. Everything isn’t all sweetness and light on the island: creatures fight, get sick, and die. They prey on each other (that cute little worm you raised from birth just got eaten by a bird!), and they have to mate in order to create little Piñatas. The “mating dance” cut scenes, complete with sleazy wah-wah guitar, are hilarious. Props to the designers for including all these aspects of “real life.” And, as in most RTS/sim games, there is an economy at work too. You need coin to buy tools, seeds, and housing. Money can be earned by clearing your land, attracting special creatures, earning achievements, and by meeting success benchmarks in the game. You can also sell items in the game’s marketplace.

In addition to the single-player game, there is a “family” mode, so that several people can work on the same garden, and also gardeners can share and work on a garden together (as well as trade items) via xBox Live.

Graphics and Sound

Obviously, a game like Viva Piñata is going to rely a lot on visual style and flair, and in this area it succeeds wonderfully. The Piñata, as well as the human residents, are designed with a lot of imagination and everything is sort of bizarre, very colorful, and extremely stylized. I’m not generally a fan of this wild aesthetic approach but it really works in Viva Piñata and I was always anxious to see what new and wryly amusing creature would appear in my garden. Everything is animated well, and the game runs without a framerate hiccup anywhere. It should be noted that the game is based on the cartoon show of the same name on the 4kidsTv network, but you don’t need to be familiar with the show to enjoy the game.

The music in the game ranges from catchy pop-flavored and calypso inflected tunes in the cutscenes to “Peter and the Wolf” style orchestral motifs for each Piñata species, which I thought was particularly clever and subtle. The ambient garden sounds are well done and change with the day and night cycle and weather events, which, incidentally, have more than a cosmetic impact on the game, as certain species only appear at night or when there has been significant rainfall.

Voice acting in Viva Piñata is quirky and appropriate to the game, with human voices generally having some sort of indefinable accent, and Piñata sounds more often than not cute and amusing. The dialogue is generally witty and clever, though a few instructional phrases do repeat a little too often.

Conclusions

I can’t really imagine anyone (other than maybe super hardcore shooter fans) not being charmed by this game. It’s accessible to younger players and has enough wit, style, and irony to appeal to older gamers as well. It’s not super fast-paced (which could be regarded as a positive) and the gameplay might be a little too open-ended for those who like clear and specific goals. But for anyone who is looking for a game the whole family can play together, Viva Piñata will do very nicely, indeed.