Welcome to the wonderful and colourful world of Viva Piñata which is full of fluffy toy animals filled with sweets ready and willing to be whacked with a spade or stick to reveal their sugary innards. Ok, well the premise in the game isn’t to bust them open but more to breed them so that kids across the World can at their parties. Viva Piñata is all about building a thriving garden which becomes home to various species of Piñata. Once they become residents it’s up to the player to find ways in which to breed them so that they can be sold and the money used to re-invest in the garden so that more desirable and expensive piñatas wish to live there. It’s cute, it’s fun but also a little deceiving considering the amount of brain power required to play. Maybe some kids will get into it but I certainly believe that adults will probably get the most from the game.
To begin players are introduced the basics of creating a habitable space for piñatas and with some helpful characters on hand to offer tips and advice means that starting out is a fairly simple process. Players first need to sculpt the landscape by smashing with their spade cursor the ground to make planting grass or seeds possible. The spade is a very useful tool and one that players will be using a lot especially as upgrades are available which allow the player do more things such as digging holes for ponds. Once the landscape has been cleared of dry soil, players can then scatter grass seed across the small space available at the beginning of the game and once certain requirements are met in terms of how much space is grassed piñatas will start showing up. There is an order to how piñatas become resident in your garden which starts off with a sighting. This means the Piñata is viewable but can’t be interacted with in any way until they actually visit your garden. In the first case of a visiting worm Piñata (the lowest form of Piñata) once a certain percentage of garden is covered in nice green grass then they will decide to visit your garden and then become a resident. The worms are very easy to attract and once a home has been added (which can be purchased at the village) will automatically be ready for breeding (indicated by love hearts above their heads). By simply highlighting one worm with the cursor and directing it to another will initiate a breeding sequence. Here players need to navigate the Piñata through a maze of bomb shaped hazards in a mini game. Once complete the piñatas will perform a ritual love dance and then an egg is delivered and in time will hatch bringing you a baby Piñata. The baby Piñata will eventually grow to adult size where it too becomes ready for breeding. Soon you can have a vast number of worms at your disposal of which you can keep or sell off for much needed cash.
To attract more desirable piñatas, players need to focus on what is in their garden and the individual requirements for Piñata species. A handy encyclopaedia is available which gives some great concise information on the requirements for any spotted piñatas. The worms are completely uncomplicated but more advanced piñatas have very specific needs and thus poses a challenge for the player to get them to reside. There are also other factors to consider as well which includes things like how well certain species get on with others. For example the piñatas based on the sparrow require worms as a food source to aid in breeding. This means players need to have worms in their garden if they wish to breed sparrows. I found that the two species could live side by side quite happily and wouldn’t initiate eating unless directed to do so. What can become a problem are piñatas who visit and require a certain type of Piñata which they will eat regardless of your input. Fighting piñatas also poses a problem as fighting piñatas can result in death or hefty doctors’ bills. This might not seem like such a problem at first but as you get deeper into the game having your prized piñatas require medical attention becomes chillingly frustrating and painful especially if you become too pre-occupied with the thousand other tasks that present themselves during play. Other hazards are sour piñatas that seem to favour the gardens of successful Piñata breeders. These sour types tend to visit and drop soured sweets on the ground which attracts any nearby piñatas to come and eat. Once a soured sweet has been consumed the Piñata becomes ill and once again requires the attention of doctor. Players aren’t completely helpless and this is where the spade comes in handy once again. With a keen eye and vigilance players can smack sour piñatas and also destroy any dropped sweets. The same applies for fighting piñatas which instantly stops the battle, that is of course if you get there in time. This is one of the major headaches of having a successful garden. Imagine if you will a garden full of ornaments, piñatas, Plants that you have grown yourself and various helpers on hand to take care of simple tasks coupled with the fact that you are frantically buying stuff from the village to breed more piñatas. Well amongst all of the activity there are times when you are going to miss the odd fight or sour Piñata dropping sweets. It becomes a real battle of staying alert and I guess at the end of the day is somewhat self induced. You see, players should be in control at all times and with careful management of space should be able to keep things perfectly balanced. However the game seems to lure you into a state of trying to get as many visitors and residents as possible and what happened to me was things started to get out of control until the game finally told me I was too full up and needed to sell piñatas to make room for new ones. I experienced way too many fights and unwanted visitors that I ended up starting a new garden. This isn’t such a bad thing as any cash and experience is carried over and with the knowledge of how bad things can get when you try and cram too many things into the small garden space I set out on a new quest of being more methodical in my approach and it seemed to pay dividends. I think one of the more beneficial actions I employed on my second play through was the inclusion of fenced areas in which to house troublesome or endangered species such as Rabbits and mice. This worked really well for the most part except the helpers seemed to always let them out by not closing the gates behind them. This became quite frustrating especially when at times they could actually smash and break the fencing causing my precious rabbits to run riot and get eaten by foxes (yes it’s quite a task directing escapees back into the pen).
Graphically Viva Piñata looks very cute and cuddly with bright bold colours used throughout making for pleasant viewing. The piñatas themselves animate very well and it’s a joyous sight seeing a garden full of them doing their own things. The menus and general level of presentation is very easy to use and whilst there is a lot of text to read and pages to navigate is fairly simple albeit a little overly fiddly when trying to get from one page to another with speed. This is more frustrating considering a small amount of loading which is required but is something you get used to or have to at least. I encountered no issues with things like screen tearing and frame-rates and my only real criticism would have to be directed at how things look far less detailed when you zoom in fully. It certainly not Rare’s best looking game on the Xbox 360 but does a grand job of conveying a living breathing ecosystem on your console.
Sound is something that goes with the whole fun loving nature of the game and so you will be treated to the sounds of piñatas going about their business, some relaxing music and of course the speech from the people in the village. For the most part the sound is perfectly suited to the game type but with things like the people in the village you will hear repeated phrases such as “You fancy something seedy..” when talking to the shop keeper for the one hundredth time. I think if you are looking for fast paced beats or an up-tempo vibe from the game’s soundtrack then perhaps using your own would be more suitable as everything on offer is of a very chilled nature. The spot sound effects for your input are as you would expect and so Viva Piñata is really a game that focuses on keeping your brain relaxed so as not to get too distracted from the importance of managing your garden.
Viva Piñata is a game that will take quite some time to fully master and ultimately beat. Whilst attracting piñatas to your garden is one thing, breeding them is another and with over 60 species available isn’t something that can be done in weekend. There are also things like breeding a certain number of the same species and hybrids to consider as well which means players are going to have to put in the hours to get the most from the game. The whole nature of the game is quite a slow one and so players really do need to be masters of time management if they are to accomplish things quickly and concisely. What is more players can also trade items and send/receive gifts from other gardeners via Xbox Live which is bonus if you are hunting a certain type of Piñata and cant seem to get it to visit. Players are also able to visit other peoples gardens via Live to see how their creations have panned out which is also another excellent feature although admittedly one I didn’t try myself as I was too pre-occupied with nurturing my own space.
Viva Piñata is a surprise game for me and whilst its premise follows quite a distinct and rigid formula of setting the player specific goals to attract and breed piñatas; on the whole seems like a game that requires a lot of brain power to be successful. A lot more than simply pointing a gun and shooting. So despite its cute looks and what seems like targeting the younger player, I am pretty sure that many will find the game too overwhelming unless they have plenty of time to sit and take it all in for hours at a time. For older gamers then Viva Piñata is a solid and unique game for Xbox 360 and although requiring a lot of hours is a very rewarding experience. It certainly makes a welcome change to all the fighting, driving and deliberate killing of other games available for the system.
Is Viva Piñata worth a purchase? I would say so if you are looking for something different from the norm and like having your grey matter tested. The relaxed nature and slow pace of the game actually works well as you don’t need things to get overly complicated and if you are unfortunate enough to get into a situation where it becomes so then with careful and perhaps ruthless actions, players can get out of bad situations. Maybe restarting a garden is a little too harsh but at least players aren’t penalised for doing so. I must say that my second garden was far more rewarding especially as I had more insight into how the game worked. I suspect that many players will do something similar and create more than one garden. If you are the blood thirsty type who likes the splash of claret coloured liquid all over the walls and fast paced action then I suggest you avoid Viva Piñata as the only real act of violence in the game is whacking those pesky sour piñatas from your garden. Viva Piñata, a very solid management game and a welcome addition to the Xbox 360 library of games; albeit not for everyone.