11/25/2006 2:48:46 AM
Viva Pinata Xbox 360 Review
By Rich Dixon
I've always thought that it's important for children to have pets. They can love them, care for them, and in the process, learn that there's good money to be made by selling them off to people who will beat them with sticks and extract the delicious candy inside.
Oh, wait -- you thought I was talking about cats or dogs? No I was talking about "Viva Piñata," the new game from Rare that Microsoft is hoping to turn into a worldwide phenomenon as popular -- but hopefully not quite so annoying -- as Pokemon. In it, your job is to cultivate a garden that's set inside a forest filled with various types of piñata: creatures that look like worms, birds, dogs, butterflies, bunnies, horses, bears, and so on. You can never leave the garden, so you have to get the piñatas to come to you by growing grass and flowers. Eventually some wild piñatas will make your garden their home, and by encouraging two of the same type to fall in love and produce little baby piñatas, you can increase the population of your garden. And why would you want to do that? Because of two brutal truths: first, some piñatas eat other piñatas, and to get the ones higher on the food chain in your garden you need to supply them with live food. And second, because you need money to build structures and buy goods in the village store, and the primary way to make money in "Viva Piñata" is selling piñatas so they can be brought to parties and savagely beaten by children.
Microsoft has big, big plans for this game. People in Redmond are hoping that soon you'll be living La Vida Piñata: not just the game, but also a Saturday morning cartoon and a series of plush toys that you can buy for your children or collect obsessively and later sell on eBay. "Viva Piñata" is also Microsoft's latest attempt to addict children to the Xbox experience. But if you buy this game for a six year old in your life, will he or she enjoy it? The game is certainly very bright and colorful, and children will likely find the design of the piñatas appealing. The NPCs you meet are also pitched to a young market, so much so that older gamers will be tempted to mute the game to avoid the annoyingly cute voice work.
However, beneath the hood of "Viva Piñata" lies a lot of complexity, maybe too much for younger gamers. Selling your piñatas for cash, or watching one devour another, has some disturbing implications, and may be too heavy for sensitive children. In addition, there are very few things in this game that are obvious, and the game documentation isn't much help, either. How to attract certain piñatas and get them to breed is something you learn by trial and error, which translates into many hours of gameplay that you'll find either engaging or frustrating. The piñatas also interact with each other in intricate ways: some types like each other, some will fight, while still others find each other delicious. And then there's the "Sours," bad piñatas that show up later in the game and cause problems in your garden. Developing an ecosystem that deals with the Sours while keeping every other piñata happy is probably impossible, and "Viva Piñata" is the sort of game that doesn't have victory conditions or a pre-defined ending, so you'll never really know what it is that you're shooting for. All in all, it's kind of like cultivating a real garden: you want to keep the weeds out and get pretty things to grow there, but a garden isn't something that's ever really finished. If you're not in it for the experience of gardening, you're better off doing something else with your time.
Multiplayer is the biggest disappointment in the game. There are leaderboards that show you who has the most valuable gardens, and you can compare your achievements to others on your Friends list. I also like the feature of being able to send a box of piñatas to your friends -- they won't know what's inside until they open it, so the only way to find out whether the box contains valuable piñatas for their garden or noxious Sours that will run around causing trouble is to open the box and find out. As other reviews have pointed out, though, there's something missing online: the ability to navigate through other players' gardens and see what they have there. You spend all this time building, cultivating, and maintaining your garden, and there's no way to show it off? That's crazy.
So is this game for you? That's a pretty simple call. If you like sandbox games like "The Sims" or "Animal Crossing," you'll enjoy the depth and discovery that "Viva Piñata" brings to the table. If you like the idea of building something not so you can win, but just so you can see it grow, this is your type of title. If, however, you're looking for an adrenaline rush, look elsewhere. "Viva Piñata" is what it is: both very good and not for everyone.
Graphics: 9. Bright and colorful.
Sound: 8. Every piñata has its own sounds.
Gameplay: 8. Deep, complex, and never really ending.
Story: N/A. You get a garden and some seeds. If there's a story there, I don't really want to hear it.
Replayability: 9. With all the different piñatas and the way they can interact, you're never going to explore every aspect of the game.
Overall: 8.5. “La Vida Piñata” is coming, whether you're ready or not.
Viva Pinata Xbox 360 Review