Rare
Microsoft
Simulation
1-4
11.09.06

Viva Pinata (Xbox 360)


It would seem that with franchises like Halo, Resident Evil, and Grand Theft Auto, that the video game industry is starting to alienate the youngling demographic (with the exception of the occasional awful adaptation of an annoying movie you took your little brother to at the request of your parents). It makes sense; on the one hand, teenagers, young adults, and middle-aged men living with their parents (you know who you are) are more likely to spend their money on a video game than a parent who has to decide between getting the game and, you know, parent stuff. Unfortunately, with a lack of “kid-friendly” games being released on the consoles, we’re encouraging an overly violent generation of gamers to shut out anything that doesn’t involve killing aliens or blood oozing out of a headshot. Fortunately for us, there are the guys at Rare. The same guys who brought us the Donkey Kong Country franchise whip out a “not quite Sims, not quite Animal Crossing” gem with a name as goofy as the concept. I present to you Viva Pinata.

Gameplay

Piñatas, piñatas, piñatas. While that’s normally all that would need to be said, I don’t get paid unless these reviews meet certain length requirements. Moving on.

Viva Pinata takes you to the mysterious and surreal land of Piñata Island (how do they come up with this stuff?), where you get to play God and Suzy Homemaker for an island full of sentient piñatas. You will name them, outfit them with crazy accessories, plant food for them, encourage them to breed, and sell them for quick cash…just as you would with any animal lower than you on the food chain. The concept itself demands it be played; here you have a game is universally appealing, just absurd enough to be enjoyed by hardcore gamers, and surprisingly addictive (not to mention emotionally attaching…I’ll get to that later). You may scoff, but ask yourself; didn’t you play the Sims at least once (it was the best-selling computer game in the history of THE WORLD, I know you at least played a friend’s copy) or Animal Crossing (my god, I’m making references to a rival company)? You’re telling me you’d play a game where you tell your characters when to clean up after themselves, but you won’t help propagate a species? Lame.

That’s exactly what you do in Viva Piñata. Starting out with simple, almost mindless breeds, using them to grow plants, and using those plants to attract other species of piñatas…Piñata Island is sort’ve like Jurassic Park without the “Man Shouldn’t Play God” moral at the end. You’ll manage your populations of piñatas like a benevolent, omniscient dictator, watching various species flourish and interact with each other, giving each of them their own names and personalities, and administering TLC whenever one falls ill (more on that later). This game might in fact appeal to parents more than to children; not only is it safe enough to play in front of their kids, but a lot of the gameplay in VP resembles parenting; you’ll have to decorate their living area, clothe them, feed them, and settle disputes (meaning summoning the doctor when one of them gets BEAT down, which happens). You wouldn’t think parenting a bunch of virtual party favors would be addictive, but the gameplay and the piñatas themselves have a way of roping you in. Like in Nintendogs, NeoPets and other reasons you avoid the dog you do own, you’ll find yourself emotionally attached to your piñatas. Which makes selling them that much funnier.

Cash flow is a constant concern in VP. While you’re busy patching up wounded piñatas and making sure you have enough plants to feed or that the piñatas will keep on reproducing, you’ll occasionally realize that you’re low on cheddar, and will have to sell one of your precious snowflakes. You’d be surprised how hard it will be to pick which one of your cute, cuddly creations you have to send out. Yes, this game involves things like money management and procuring an income. It’s like your…a piñata breeder. You raise them, and then you sell them. Sometimes, you can even sell them to your friends. Tell me after hearing that you won’t give the game at least a try.

Most gamers will find frustration with the tediousness of the gameplay. This is because they think they are playing The Sims. Unlike other simulated life games, VP doesn’t require you to absolutely tend to every whim, to keep the balance of all things, and to keep all of the piñatas happy go lucky. Sometimes it’s fun to screw around with your slice of paradise. Sometimes it’s fun just to make them mad. Don’t bother breaking up fights, those piñatas are worse than hockey players. At first you’ll want to play it cautious and be your own Gandhi, but in the end it’s better to occasionally let the shit hit the fan just to see where it lands. However, a note to parents: if your kid gets a thrill out of purposely torturing and/or abusing his piñatas, he doesn’t need to be playing video games. He needs a therapist.

As fun as raising your own civilization of living piñatas and then selling them is (and it really is) the game lacks the replay that perhaps the more violent, more action-infused titles may. Sure, playing parent/God/school principal may be fun for maybe an hour a day, but eventually, after a little more than an hour of all that cuteness at one time, you’ll be begging for a death by chainsaw, and if you can’t get your hands on a copy of Gears of War or the latest DOA, you’ll just have to settle for the evil satisfaction that comes from feeding the piñatas to each other (yes, I saved the best part for last) and masterminding the ecological enslavement of a race of cutesy toys. Enter evil laugh here.

Graphics

Once again, Rare bitch slaps its competition with its visually stunning graphics centered around an extremely silly concept (first it’s monkeys riding on rhinoceroses, and then this). The piñatas are vibrant, life-like colors (I’m guessing, I stopped having piñatas at my birthday parties when I was five) and roam a beautifully rendered 3D environment. The graphics are so vivid and luscious, that you must play the game to experience it, as any screenshot you find online is usually too compressed (and therefore blurry) to give it justice. The game is worth a rental for the graphics alone, and while little kids will be dazzled with the sights of this game, older gamers will appreciate the state-of-the-art character models and environments, even if they aren’t of Master Chief or World War II Germany.

Sound

This will definitely be one of those games that attracts people from other rooms. Upon hearing the bouncy music or the brays of your piñatas, people will stick their heads in your room, look at you, then look at the TV, and then walk out, a little more curious than they were before. The soundtrack isn’t stand-alone, and outside of context the noises the piñatas make would be absolutely annoying. But it fits.

Replay Value

Addictive as it may be, this is one of those “play all day for seven days and never pick it up again” games. If you overdo it, you’re eventually going to stop and go “this is dumb”. Unless you’re a small child. In that case, you will never stop playing this game. But if you were a small child, you wouldn’t be reading this article. So again, I repeat; play this game sparingly. As long as you ration your playing, this game will provide you months of entertainment. If you’re not careful, though, you’ll be back at GameStop a week later, hoping you can get at least half of what you paid for back.

Bottom Line:

The obviously kiddie angle to it aside, Viva Pinata is an innovative, highly addictive game and will challenge the standards set for both its genre (I’m calling it “SimPokeHarvest”) and for the system itself. With graphics that showcase the capabilities of the 360 and gameplay that will rope in people from ages 3 to 300 (you never know who out there might be a wizard with an anti-aging elixir), Viva Pinata is a must-play for any “serious” 360 fan (which you must be, since you’re on this site right now, right?).

Related Links:

Official Website for Viva Pinata

-Jimi Robertson




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