» GH Review: Viva Piñata (XBOX 360)

Welcome to VIVA PIÑATA!
At a first glance it’s hard not to be skeptical when you’re faced with a vibrant game about piñatas that’s based on a show airing on 4Kids TV. While the flashy colors and an overall appearance geared towards the younger demographic may seem queer at first, Viva Piñata offers a surprisingly deep garden simulation experience that can be extremely rewarding in the long run.  Starting off with a meager plot of barren land, the undeniable charm in this game can grasp you from the start and never let go.

What is Viva Piñata?
The storyline revolves around a desolate patch of land that used to belong to the legendary gardener Jardiniero. Jardniniero’s masterpiece has been reduced to nothing more than a junkyard after time took its toll, so with the help of the melancholic Leafos you must embark on a journey to restore the garden to its former glory. Leafos introduced the basics of the game, such as watering, planting, and attracting piñatas, and she’ll always wander around in your estate for reference.

Instead of having clear cut objectives to follow, the whole purpose of Viva Piñata is simply to discover. Different piñatas will be attracted to your garden if it meets their requirements, and if they enjoy their visit they may even become residents. Over time, you’ll want to attract a variety of piñatas that will not only reside in your land, but hopefully they will also reproduce and offer produce. Each creature has its own set of needs, so you constantly need to adjust your garden if you hope to sustain a diverse environment. For example, a Pretztail wants a garden where he can easily find prey, while Bunnycombs just want a place with a plethora of carrots. This game offers a great concept that always leaves you wanting to explore more, so there’s never a dull moment.

Papier-mâché at its finest!
Regardless of age, it’s hard to have anything bad to say about Viva Piñata’s visuals. Whether you’re playing in HDTV or on a standard television, the entire world emits a lambent glow that should warm your heart right away. Each creature moves so smooth and freely to create the illusion of life, and as ridiculous as this sounds sometimes it feels like you’re working with actual living piñatas. Instead of needing state-of-the-art technology in order to be recognized, this game has a resolute visual style that clearly makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Similarly, the sound department does a great job at bringing the garden to life. Above everything else, the ambient noises work well to emphasize the idea of a living ecosystem existing right before your eyes. At any given moment you can hear frogs croaking, ducks quacking, and exhausted creatures snoring just to name a few. Occasionaly the same noises will go from cute to annoying once they become overused, but as a whole the creature sounds are more than welcome, even more so if you have a surround sound setup. The soundtrack, while it won’t always catch your attention, does help to accentuate the overall mood. When piñatas are ready to romance flutes and harps begin to play, and when there is trouble afoot dissonant chords and heavy drums will take the rise. Simply put, gamers of all ages will be able to appreciate the presentation values instilled in Viva Piñata.

Don’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em!
In this traditional rags-to-riches story, your original plot of dirt will be a thriving piñata playground in no time. In a game that blends aspects from titles like The Sims and Pokemon, the sky is the limit on your quest for discovery. Like any other game it can take a notable amount of effort to learn the controls, but once you get a feel for how things work in the piñata world you can expect clear sailing from there on out.

From the beginning, you’re granted a shovel, watering can, a packet of grass seeds. While this might not seem like a lot of materials to start your own living ecosystem, these tools will actually be the foundation for your garden throughout the entire game. The shovel is by far the best tool; it can make ground usable for planting, dig major holes that can turn into lakes, and it can even be used to whack any creature that you don’t like! The watering can helps keep your plants and vegetables hydrated, and grass seeds will grow the second they are placed.

As the game progresses, you’ll find that different piñatas demand different things if they are going to reside in your garden. If you want to attract bees than you’ll need to get flowers, or if you want to attract ducks then you better have plenty of pond water. Goods such as seeds, fertilizer, and produce can all be purchased from a general store. By checking the in-game encyclopedia you can see the requirements that each piñata needs to eventually become a resident, and knowing this will help you plan your landscaping. This can definitely be bothersome for people in the long run. For instance, early on it might help to attract sea creatures by digging a massive pond, but if you plan on attracting larger, more valuable piñatas you’ll need to dig up your entire pond and plant grass there. As the game furthers, it can also be disheartening to know that your carefully planned garden will need to be scrapped if you want to move on to bigger and better things, and it can be hard to destroy everything you’ve worked for. However, in the end it’s obviously worth regressing a little bit in order to have the most elusive piñatas reside in your estate.

While it may seem as if the piñatas themselves don’t actually do anything, they are extremely critical to sustaining a profitable garden. On the most basic level, they can be sold for quick cash if you ever find yourself in a bind. If you think more long term, on the other hand, it’s much more lucrative to allow piñatas to procreate or produce goods. While not all creatures can offer milk, honey, or other goods, every creature is capable of reproducing. After you build a mating house and satisfy all of their requirements, creatures will be able to ‘romance’, and in no time they’ll produce an offspring which will be just as useful as its parents in no time. Romancing is one of the more comical aspects of this game, and it’s funny to see how each animal performs the romance dance.

Unfortunately, it’s not always fun and games in the piñata world. Attracting the black and white homeless creatures will be beneficial for you, but the red and black Sour piñatas only arrive to cause trouble. These menacing creatures can make your animals sick, leave behind poisonous goods, and sometimes they can downright eat somebody! If you hear deep sounding music or receive an alert saying there is a Sour in the area, your best bet is to break out your shovel and scan the area. Beating any piñata enough times with a shovel will cause it to explode and release candy, and as cannibalistic as this may sound eating the remnants will make the survivors happier.

Aside from Sour attacks, sometimes your own piñatas will turn against each other for a number of reasons. If happiness levels are low creatures are more likely to break out into fights, and these always end with somebody getting seriously injured. Although a quick call to the doctor should fix everything up, it’s not a good thing to have World War III breaking out in your garden. Other times, carnivorous creatures will eat other animals in order to meet residence or romance requirements, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do to prevent this. Some creatures are more belligerent than others, so all you can hope to do is separate the nastier of the bunch with fencing.

Early on it’s nice to take full grasp of the controls to get a complete understanding of how things work, but eventually you’ll be able to hire people to perform the monotonous tasks in your garden. Whether you have employees water your plants or pick your crop, this feature can make the tedious aspects of this sim hardly bothersome at all. Other entrepreneurs, such as a piñata hunter and pet seller, can also make everyday gardening much easier if you’re willing to pay the price.

Viva Piñata and Xbox Live
To further that whole “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality, an Xbox Live trading feature is incorporated that allows you to send and receive mysterious crates to your friends. If a friend sends you a crate, it could contain any piñata, and if it’s one that you haven’t seen before it can make your quest much easier. However, if your friend happens to be a jerk he could also send you Sour piñatas, poisonous candy, or any other problems that happen in his garden. Whenever you receive a crate, you can accept it, forward it, or have it returned to the sender. The catch is that you don’t know what’s inside the crate at all, so you could be passing up a grand opportunity. While this is a cool feature, sadly this is the whole extant of the online modes. Some leaderboards can be accessed if you trifle through a few menus, but it would be so much nicer if you could compare and even visit your friend’s garden. As it stands the ability to trade is welcome, but it would’ve been nice to see a little more here.

In the big scheme of things, Viva Piñata is a captivating title that lures you in with its unique appeal and keeps you coming back for more because of its enigmatic nature. From the moment you plant you first grass seed, you’ll find that there’s always something to do in the piñata garden. There are a few less entertaining moments when you have to reconstruct your entire garden just to attract a certain species, but the elements of discovery is what makes this title so engrossing. Don’t let its distinctive visual style throw you off – Viva Piñata absolutely holds it own regardless of how old the gamer may be.




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