Viva Piñata Review

Video games are a universe of extremes. Case in point: while playing the intense shooter Gears of War, I switched over to do the Viva Piñata game review. It was quite a job to change gears, so to speak, from the super violent world of Gears to the fluffy, light atmosphere of Viva Piñata, which is Microsoft’s first real serious effort in developing a mainstream "E" rated video game.

After the adrenaline and physical shakes wore off from playing Gears, I entered the innocent world of Piñata, wondering how a children’s game could hold its own against a balls-out shooter. But we’re professionals here at the offices of GamerNode and we have given up our pinky fingers in an oath to remain impartial no matter what the circumstances. (I miss my pinky.) So I dutifully put any preconceived notions and my Lancer assault rifle away to pick up a garden shovel and a handful of gold chocolate coins in Viva Piñata. We’ll find out if this game is full of nice, sweet piñata candy or full of something else we can’t really mention here in our "E" rated review of this game.

In a nutshell, VP is a game that will remind you of Animal Crossing, The Sims, Tamagotchi and Nintendogs all rolled up into one — except everything is in piñata style. The premise of the game is simple: start a garden, plant things, attract animals to your garden, reproduce them and attract more animals.

You are the new gardener on Piñata Island and your first assignment is to break up the hard ground into a more suitable planting environment. You’re told to hack away at the earth, with a strong but broken shovel, until you have a fairly nice plowed over field. Your next step is to plant the garden with grass. The character, Leafus, takes you through the beginning stages of gameplay and frequents your location at least once a day to offer advice and comments about how you are doing. The first twenty or so minutes of the game will most likely bring up a "so what?" from your lips. But if you’re patient enough to plow through and invest some serious game time with VP, your efforts will be rewarded.

The start of the game is rather uneventful as you are basically given instructions on how the game operates. The tutorial is good and offers a lot of information on the ins and outs of playing the game. While this game is rated E for everyone, the instructions may be a little too complex for young players. Even so, after some experimentation the proper game actions can be figured out.

With your first assignment out of the way, you get to experience the first visitors to your newly formed garden — the creatures called Whirlm. The sound of the word is precisely what the creature resembles, but with a colorful piñata look to it. The little fuzzy guy moves along and makes little cute whimpering noises as it crawls around your garden. Ready? One, two, three: awww, how cute.

Speaking of cute, this game is brimming to the top and overflowing with cuteness. If cute were gold, you could probably retire from all the cute in this game. Depending on your tolerance, or acceptance of cute, you may be totally enamored or have your senses overwhelmed by this game — in other words, cynics need not apply.

Later in the game, you are assigned to reproduce your first batch of Whirlms by making their living quarters optimal. This means you have to build them a Whirlm house for the happy couple to live in. But before they do this, you’ll have to get them in the mood for romance. This is done by enticing the little critters to meet one another. Once this is accomplished, the sparks fly and bing, bam, boom, you have a colorful Whirlm egg which hatches into a little offspring of the parents.

The depth of the game shows itself in the many methods and strategies you must use in order to not only get the animals to visit and stay at your garden, but to also meet very specific prerequisites before the animals reproduce. Some creatures will only appear and stay if certain flowers are grown in the garden while other creatures won’t appear unless other creatures are present first. Due to this, replay value is unlimited because the game is so open-ended. You can literally play this game for months even after you have unlocked all of the animals.

One of the surprising elements of the game is the predatory nature of some of the piñata animals. The Syrupent, a snake-like creature, will only appear if the animal Likatoad appears, and Syrupents like to eat Likatoads. When creatures on Piñata Island fight or eat one another, the defeated or eaten creature explodes in a shower of piñata candy. There is a squeal and cheer and delight from the animals and they eat all exposed sweets. This is cute, but somehow a little bit grizzly. (I don’t think I’ve gotten used to this yet.) As your garden grows, and if you meet the correct requirements, your garden will fill with more and more animals.

As the gardener of Piñata Island, you are also charged to keep everything you plant healthy. This is accomplished by buying the right types of fertilizer at the local store in the village from an individual named Mrs. Costalot, and by keeping a constant vigil to water your plants everyday. From her store, you can buy various items such as gardening equipment, seeds, fruit, candy, accessories and other articles to make your garden grow. The village also has a pinatanarian who comes to your garden to heal any sick piñata animals, a local carpenter who builds houses, a pet store, a hunter, a for-hire agency to employ workers, and others.

You’ll probably visit the local store the most and get an earful of snappy banter from Mrs. Costalot. She comes across as very insincere and is extremely funny in her attempts to appear genuine. The monetary system of the island is based upon chocolate gold coins. The way you increase your value is by breeding and selling your animals for money. Believe me when I say this, it’s not the easiest thing to do after you’ve become attached to some of your animals. But in order for your garden to thrive, you must make the sacrifice and sell them. Since Whirlms are the easiest to breed, I made plenty of them for the sole purpose of selling them for profit. (I felt pretty awful about it, but hey, nothing personal, it’s just business, as Don Corleone once said.)

But Pinata Island is not a haven from danger and distress. There are animals on the island which are determined to make your garden, and the animals who live in it unhappy, or ever worse, prey for their appetites. The Sour Shellybean, which resembles a slug-like animal, enters your garden and tries to eat your precious piñata friends. If this isn’t accomplished, the dastardly slugs leave behind sour piñata candy. The innocent creatures of your garden, not knowing the good candy from the bad, eat these pieces and get sick. If they are not taken care of by the doctor, they will die. There are other enemies such as the Ruffians who maraud through your garden without fear or feeling, and these adversaries must be dispatched of quickly before they wreak havoc on your garden.

The real fun of this game has to do with taking care of and attracting creatures to your garden. After a while, the place looks like a scene out of bizzaro Dr. Doolittle. The animals, for the most part, live in harmony and it is your job to keep them protected and happy. Occasional fights and hungry critters who try to eat their fellow inhabitants happen, so you’ll have to be on constant lookout to maintain peace in the garden. The romance between different animals of the same species is funny and entertaining. Once a matched couple falls in love, (with you as the matchmaker), each species goes into an animated dance of happiness. Each of the scenes is fun to watch, and ends with a little mini-game in which you must navigate one of the animals through a maze to its mate.

The menu system offers selections to go to the village to buy and sell things, a journal in which very important information about the living habits of your piñatas are found, and different objects for your use. As you progress in the game, you will attain the blue petals of a flower. Once you collect a full head of them, you are rewarded with an upgraded shovel to accomplish tasks such as digging holes, digging out ponds and other duties. The shovel not only acts as a gardening tool, but also as a weapon to break bad piñatas open. The life gauge of all living creatures is seen as a segmented chocolate bar. Each time you whack the animal, a piece disappears. When all the pieces are gone, the life of the creature expires and he goes to the Big Piñata in the sky, leaving behind, of course, the candy for everyone to eat.

Each day in the garden is displayed through a flower clock in the upper right hand corner. As the day progresses, the skies get darker until nighttime comes. Some creatures that you may want to lure into your garden only appear at certain times of the day, so it would be a good idea to note when these creatures appear if you are after especially rare creatures. There are about 60 different species of animals in the game, so there is quite a bit of research and planning to get the rarer creatures.

Graphics for this game are what else, eye-candy. When you aren’t involved in planting and procreation duties, it’s a treat to just view your garden and drop in on the homes of your creatures. You can catch glimpses of happy family life or the playful antics of your Quackberries. The longer you play, the more attached you’ll become to the teeming life forms which reside in your garden. Lighting effects are very good and the detail that is shown in your piñata animals is very good. You are able to zoom in on any of the creatures and the many paper strips which make up your piñatas are clearly seen. A close-up of the grass reveals good detail in showing the thickest and thinnest parts of your garden. Some seeds prefer thick grass as opposed to thin grass, and pulling the camera in to see this will help in your efforts to successfully plant the more difficult variety of flowers, vegetables or fruit.

The music score is soothing and childlike, with orchestrations that match the game’s peaceful setting. When danger appears or is afoot, ominous, dark music filters through the game scene. All the animals make distinctive noises and you’ll be able to recognize each one just by the sounds they make. When a creature is sick, the sad whimpers it makes will have you calling for the doctor as soon as you can. Voice acting for the humans in the game is campy and well done. They’ll amuse you with their patter, especially Mrs. Costalot.

Viva Piñata is a game that can be enjoyed by children, teenagers or adults. The universal appeal of this game lies with the fact that people generally like animals and nice gardens. What VP does is to combine these elements into an enjoyable experience. If you don’t mind a game that is open ended, and one which basically builds on the concept of taking care of things, Viva Piñata should prove to be a hit.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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