E3 '07: Viva Pinata: Party Animals

Despite the importance Microsoft placed on the upcoming Viva Piñata: Party Animals at their press event, relatively few people took it for a spin compared to the neighboring Microsoft titles. Figuring I’d get a quick minigame in, I went over and challenged Chris Esaki, the games design lead at Microsoft Game Studios.

Before we began, Chris explained how the concept of the game worked. Basically, Party Animals is the game Microsoft is hoping people will play when they have a short amount of time, and are looking for playing partners. The game comes with a rather cool ability for a player to join in at any time, whether via the same console’s controllers or Live. You can be in the middle of a game, and your friend can walk in the room, press start, and take over one of the computer characters. Neat idea, and it worked extremely well.

Starting off, Chris and I raced each other with our piñatas; I was Hudson, he was Fergy. Racing is interwoven in the actual game itself; between minigames, you’re thrown in races against your opponent. Using the RT button you accelerate your piñata, much like you would accelerate a vehicle in most Microsoft racing titles. Obviously, you can brake (and even powerslide) as well. While racing, you can collect power-ups (like Mario Kart), which can be fired using the X button. Some of the ones I saw (and used) included little rockets, a giant flower that pops up in front of you car and crashes anyone it touches, and a beehive which leaves a trail of bees and honey.

After the race, a winner is announced; Chris said that the racing affects the outcome of the minigames, but I’m not sure if they offered more points for winning races than other games.

We played several minigames after that initial race (I came in 2nd – a computer got 1st). They ranged from tapping different buttons as a prompt appeared on screen to belch and blow a toy boat across water, to eating an apple by pressing A repeatedly and rotating the fruit with the analog stick. (There was also a sumo-like game, which was Chris’s least favorite; I can see why.)

Somewhere in the midst of our battle, a woman named Sarah joined in. She took over for Paulie, and despite the fact she wasn’t an actual gamer (something to do with business), she easily understood how the games worked after the instruction screens. That didn’t help her win, though. "What’s the age recommendation of this game, again?" she laughingly asked. I told her 30, and for a moment I think she may have believed me.

At the end of the minigame session, we raced one more time, this time in an icy environment. One of the harder races (if not the hardest), the ice wreaked havoc on our poor pinatas, sending us all flying over the edge to an icy candy-filled death numerous times.

As a party game, Viva Piñata: Party Animals was more fun than Mario Party 8 based off of the 10 or so minigames I played. It may not have the memorable characters or known people a la the Mario Party franchise, but as far as party games go, it’s the best next-gen offering yet.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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