Viva Piñata

Merely looking at screenshots or videos of Viva Piñata makes it difficult to tell exactly what it is. It’s obviously a rather large section of a genius marketing ploy, a calculated Pokémon, but what else? To put it simply, Viva Piñata is an ecosystem simulator with, well, piñatas.

It’s not an RPG collect-a-thon like Pokémon, nor is it a laidback pseudo-social experience like Animal Crossing. Instead, it has more in common with the PC version of The Sims 2.

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The premise of the game is that you are given a run-down garden and are tasked with restoring it to its former glory. You’re given a basic, tired shovel that can flatten soil and that’s really about it. Once you’ve managed to clear some soil, you’ll be given a seed packet so you can plant some grass.

Once you’ve planted enough grass, a small piñata will visit your garden, and you will be given a reward for it. With your augmented skills, you’ll be able to carry on improving your garden. Once it meets certain requirements, your first piñata will decide to stay as a resident.

Soon you’ll be able to shop, or perhaps build a house for mating certain piñatas. Slowly you’ll realise that your progression is planned and deliberate, which gives some sort of structure to an experience that could otherwise be pointless.

Once you’ve spent a few hours with the game, you’ll realise that the goal is to organise a stable ecosystem that can sustain itself. You’ll want to make sure that everything is perfectly in balance – hiring workers to aid you if needed – so that you can concentrate on the few spanners that will inevitably find their way into your finely tuned machine.

For example, you’ll want to make sure that your whurm population doesn’t shrink to insignificant levels so they can no longer mate, as whurms provide the mating food for sparrowmints. Don’t panic if they do find themselves extinct, because as long as you meet the requirements for appearance, they’ll return to visit your garden, but it's convenient to keep things balanced.

At the higher levels, the challenge is to maintain a relevant ecosystem for your intended goals in the finite amount of space you have. It’s impossible to cram everything that will please everyone into your small garden, so it becomes a case of management and making sure that your current goals can be easily met. Whether that means digging a larger pond or installing a new mating house, there will always be something for you to do.

Once you’ve got the gist of the experience, Viva Piñata can become a very relaxing affair. The graphics are stunning, to the point where they’re probably the best on the system, and the soundtrack is always appropriate as it varies from soft classical scores to funky rock music. Simply taking in the sights and sounds of your garden as you maintain it and shape it to your whims and desires is a soothing affair, and makes a great way to relax after trying to beat RAAM in Gears of War.

Yes, Viva Piñata isn’t a game that’s limited to children. It certainly will appeal to younger gamers, and there are plenty of options that allow the experience to be simplified and shared with a parent. The TV show comes into play by providing hints for the gameplay, such as what to feed certain piñatas. However, the game’s British charm and relaxing and surprisingly deep gameplay means that adults will enjoy this one as much as the children.

Sometimes it can become a bit taxing – piñatas eating your flowers, or invaders eating your piñatas will prove frustrating – but without these challenges and annoyances, the game would be too passive for its own good. Even as it stands, the game seems a little pointless. There doesn’t really seem to be any lucid end-game goal, other than to build an ecosystem you find pleasant and to unlock all the achievements. However, there’s not really any point to games like The Sims 2; they're simply fun for their own sake.

At the end of the day, Viva Piñata is a charming and enjoyable sim that shouldn’t be dismissed because of its graphical style. Its gameplay is deep and enjoyable, and there hasn’t really been anything quite like it on a video game console before. And its sense of humour will allow adults to appreciate the experience just as much as younger gamers. It comes easily recommended, and it makes an excellent compliment to the more action-packed Gears of War. The game’s only $70, so if you’ve got a 360, you should really pick up Viva Piñata.

"A charming and enjoyable game for all ages.."
- Viva Piñata
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Easy   Learning Curve: 2 Hours


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