reviews\ Nov 23, 2006 at 7:00 pm

Viva Pinata - 360 - Review

WARNING: Playing Viva Pinata in the company of your buddies may result in thorough ridicule and insults.  I learned this the hard way when I first inserted the game into my Xbox 360.  After a wild week of Gears of War, the gameplay of Viva Pinata was not as welcomed to our household as I expected.  So I did the rational thing and began looking for new roommates.  Simply put, Viva Pinata is NOT just a game for kids.  Sure, Microsoft has employed the services of 4Kids Entertainment to create a new animated series based on the game.  And yes, giving characters names like Fizzlybear and Fudgehog doesn’t induce feelings of masculinity and boldness.  But giving Viva Pinata a fair chance will expose you to a new kind of game you may have been subconsciously craving, a delightful exploration into a vibrant world. 

Viva Pinata is fairly similar to the well-known titles Animal Crossing and The Sims.  Now, I have never been a fan of simulation video games.  Micromanaging monotonous tasks endlessly such as maintaining my characters health always felt like doing homework.  However, Viva Pinata does a great job in keeping you motivated throughout the experience.  The game starts out on the vibrant Pinata Island where lush plant life sprawls and curious creatures roam.  From the beginning, you are given a small area of land for which to cultivate a garden.  You meet a girl named Leafos who will guide you through the basic gameplay mechanics.  After handing you a shovel, water can, and a green seed packet, you begin gardening what will soon become your home.  Because the target audience is clearly aimed for young gamers who can barely hold a controller, the game starts out gradually allowing for a great learning-curve.  The steps to successfully growing a garden are simple enough: get rid of the junk in your garden, smash up the dirt, lay down seeds, and pour a little H2O.  The controls, which include maneuvering a cursor via the left thumb stick and A as the action button, aren’t as accurate as I wish.  At times, I executed the wrong command (smashing the dirt is a lot different than whacking a baby Pinata, but both are equally satisfying).

Viva Pinata Screenshot 

I have learned that not all plants are created equal.  Planting fruit trees requires some decision-making as to what to grow.  Some plants are more effective in producing fruit than others, evident in the number of different pinatas that will visit.  The pinatas will even change colors depending on what types of food they eat.  Of course, the ultimate goal of Viva Pinata as the name suggests is to get as many pinatas as possible to visit and eventually stay.  There are about 60 pinatas in total, each having their own specific requirements (viewable in the game journal provided) that the garden will need to offer before they settle in.  From the lowly Whirlms that first call your garden “home” to the larger and more unique species including Elephanilla and Horstachio that require more attention and space, some sacrifices will need to be made for the good of the garden.  You can’t become too fixated on obtaining a particular pinata as I have learned.  Doing so could jeopardize your garden’s success.  Experience points are given to you whenever a new species visits your garden, decides to become residents, and populate. 

Other creatures called sour pinatas will also visit your garden.  They basically exist to stir up trouble until you kick them out or tame them (tough love doesn’t mean taking a bat to them).  Once you have two of the same kind of pinatas living in your garden, you can begin the highly-entertaining process of procreating.  Ironically, what should be the most delicate subject in a game directly for children is one of the most fun things about Viva Pinata.  After building a shack to house the animals, the pinatas display pink hearts over their heads indicating that love in the air.  A mini-game will ensue where you must aid their coming together while avoiding obstacles (it sounds more mature than it really is).  Once they find each other, a heart-felt process of dancing to music from a jukebox will occur (sadly, the soulful sounds of Barry White and Air Supply aren’t in the track list).  An egg is delivered to the proud parents and you have a brand new Pinata to add to the population.  I must note that there are no gender differences between the pinatas, so don’t be concerned if you pair two animals together that might share the same “pinata pieces.”  Later in the game, you will be able to access a number of stores to help you expand and improve your garden.  You can sell your plants and even pinatas to buy new things including other plants and pinatas.  The game’s currency system is also useful, featuring chocolate coins that can be earned when completing certain tasks.

Viva Pinata Screenshot 

I’ll admit, I downloaded the promo-cartoon show on Xbox Live Marketplace (for research purposes only…).  After watching the show and playing the game, I realized a sharp difference.  The animated series focuses on the pinatas themselves.  However, when playing the game, you are the gardener.  It’s important to consider the pinatas as assets that you own rather than friends.  Like I mentioned before, you can sell them.  It does get awkward when you grow attached and start naming them, but you must make sacrifices for the good of the garden.  Each pinata that you own will be branded by your own customized labels that can be seen anywhere, no matter where your pinata goes (there are subtle similarities to that of colonial slave trading, but we’ll move on).  As your garden gets bigger and becomes home to more and more pinatas, micromanaging becomes less attractive.   Luckily, you can hire helpers who can do all sorts of things from watering and maintaining plants to preventing pinatas from fighting each other.  Interestingly enough, certain pinatas have conflicting personalities which can often result in dangerous fights.  Learning who gets along with who is important for safety sake and the health of your garden. 

One of the games major shortfalls- if not the only shortfall- is the lack of integration for Xbox Live.  Multiplayer functionality is limited to just sending and receiving pinatas across the Internet.  While there is no arguing that exposing children to the “unique” conversations that often come through the Live headset may jeopardize the game’s E-rating (I myself have learned some new words that don’t bear repeating), visiting a friend’s garden to explore their world would have been a nice touch to an otherwise great game.

Viva Pinata Screenshot 

The graphical details are very impressive.  The island is lush, the plants are colorful, and the pinatas are fully animated adding to their uniqueness.  On my high-definition television, it’s easily the most vibrant title I have ever played.  The sound is also pretty good.  The pinata sounds can become annoying at times, but some of the garden-environment sounds are awesomely charming. 

There is so much to Viva Pinata, it’s difficult to get into the specifics without playing it for yourself.  Simply put, this game is a lot of fun.  Although clearly for children, gamers of all ages can enjoy the simple pleasures of watching a Whirlm get his groove on, extracting honey from the Buzzlegum to sell, and turning on the Xbox 360 knowing your pinata friends are waiting for you on the other side.  Border-line pathetic?  Maybe.  But altogether, I think that even the most battle-hardened videogame fanatic will find something enjoyable in Viva Pinata. 

Review Scoring Details for Viva Pinata

Gameplay: 8.7
Despite occasional control issues and a not-so-impressive online component, Viva Pi
nata is a game worth experiencing.

Graphics: 9.0
simple, the graphics are pure and lush.  The colors are vibrant.

Sound: 8.5
sound definitely adds to the games ambiance with the exception of some animal noises.

Difficulty: Easy

Concept: 9.0
When I first heard about the concept of the game, I scratched my head in confusion.  But Rare has done a great job.

Overall: 9.0
Tired of chainsawing Locusts?  Bored of sniping Nazis?  Give Viva Pi
nata a shot.  Experiencing a vibrant world full of animals that react to every decision you make in your garden is not a typical simulation videogame.  For $49.99, it’s a great Christmas gift idea and designed for everyone to enjoy (it is rated E for Everyone, after all).


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