Rare has had a rough patch on the Xbox platform, ranging from “good” to “okay” game releases. Though Rare makes some damn fine titles, they also fail to live up to their hype. Viva Pinata is overlooked by many gamers for being a family game, as well as a Rare game. As a family game, Kameo had some fantastic gameplay, many felt it was too short and not deep enough. Before that, Grabbed by the Ghoulies made it’s way to Xbox and failed to make a good impression. It just seems when it comes to the Xbox, and even family games in specific, that Rare has a spotty record.
Viva Pinata, though a family game, is completely different in terms of style, gameplay, and even genre. Instead of platform controls, levels filled with puzzles, and bad guys you need to pummel, you are given a garden. Viva Pinata mixes role playing, virtual pet simulation, real time strategy, and more into one. Part Pokemon, part Harvest Moon, and part The Sims, this game seems to hit on a lot of other games’ successes and combines them into one. If you think this is some shallow, boring kid’s game, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Viva Pinata has a very pleasing look to it. It’s vibrant and colorful style is incredibly well done. Don’t let the cheerful, cute style of graphics turn you off to this game, as they really help with the overall ambiance. It’s a surreal world filled with pinatas, and its vibrant colors go hand in hand with the feel of the game perfectly. The creatures are incredibly detailed, and when you zoom up you can notice even the pieces of paper that stick out of the Pinata. Their animations are just as lovely, bringing the entire world to life with a constant buzz of activity. The environments are lush, and again full of vibrant colors.
Load times, FPS dips, and autosaves barely cause a dent in the game. Though you can notice a bit of a load time while cruising through shops or when opening any information window, they are only about a second long. FPS dips a bit during an autosave, but this is hardly an issue as your gameplay is uninterrupted and only hardcore graphics gurus will notice the drop.
For some gamers it might be hard to see the true beauty of Viva Pinata’s graphics. If you can appreciate the stylish approach they use, then you can see it as being a pure masterpiece. It’s been quite awhile since just looking at and watching a game has been so interesting to me.
Viva Pinata has got a full compliment of sounds to go along with it.
To start, the music is quite well done. It’s upbeat, friendly, and pretty inviting. You’re only treated with the music during menus, though, but it’s nice enough to listen to. A pleasant sound for your ears. Then, you’ve got voice acting. It’s not anything impressive, and there’s not a lot of it. It is clear and plentiful, though, so this is helpful for younger players who have trouble reading some of the more inventive Pinata names. There is some pretty funny lines from some of the shop owners, but over time they also start to get a bit repetitive. They are pleasant, however, and fit the tone of the game perfectly.
Ambient sounds, Pinata noises, and general sound effects are all spot on. They’re fairly lively, a bit over exaggerated, but nothing is grating. Overall, it’s a pleasant sounding game that can range from cute to funny to just right. The game feels like a living, breathing world and the sound definitely helps bring it to life.
There is two sets of controls, Advanced and Simple. The only real difference is that in Advanced, you use the right analog stick to control the camera, and the triggers to zoom in and out. In Simple, the camera is instead static. In both Advanced and Simple, you control a cursor with the left analog stick around your garden. With it you can pick up seeds and plant them, gather information, control your Pinatas, and more. If you have a tool equipped, you can water your plants, dig a pond, or plant some grass depending on what tool you are using. To get your Pinatas to do more advanced maneuvers, such as a Romance dance or eating a food that isn’t familiar, you’ve got to take control of them.
Sometimes things get fairly busy and the control scheme is a bit intimidating. Grabbing the right item in a busy area can be difficult, for example. Also micromanaging a wide variety of elements all the time frankly can get a bit overwhelming. Still, in all the game is pretty streamlined and well explained, so you can get a hold of things pretty easily.
Above, I gave an example as to games it’s similar to. Pokemon, The Sims, and Harvest Moon (or Animal Crossing). It is similar to Pokemon due to the inventive creatures, some have a cute appeal, and the general “gotta catch them all” feel to the game. You run across a lot of different, unique Pinatas, and you get a sense of getting as better, more interested Pinatas as residents on your garden. With Harvest Moon, you have a patch of land you get control over. Though instead of a farm, you get a garden, but the principles are the same. You’ve got to kill weeds, plant and water seeds, sell produce, earn money, and such. Then with The Sims has a lot of customization and micromanagement in it, and you get nearly as much in Viva Pinata. You can design a great looking garden with various items and plants, or buy accessories for your Pinata as well. You’ve also got to watch their mood, make sure they don’t get sick, keep them out of fights, and more.
So as you see, there is quite a fusion of gameplay styles. It doesn’t stop there, though. To start off, all 3 games above have some sort of currency. With Viva Pinata, you get to collect chocolate coins. At the beginning, you earn a bit of cash by smashing a few old objects, but as you go on you earn money by selling just about everything. You sell your old Pinatas, produce, plants, and old buildings for those delicous chocolate coins. When you get coins, you can purchase better buildings, plants, and items for your garden. In addition, you can also hire creatures to help you with watering your plants, protecting your garden, and selling extra produce. These creatures look a bit crazy, but they fit right into the world.
The core of the game obviously revolves around Pinatas. The core sense is to better and better Pinata types, and you get kind of caught up in collecting the rare Pinatas. It’s quite a challenge, actually, especially once you start getting into the higher level Pinatas. Each Pinata has a different set of requirements it is looking for, such as plants to eat, smaller Pinatas to consume, certain types of flora, or other types of Pinatas it likes. The more you progress into the game, the more unique your garden and specific types of Pinatas become. The unique triggers, AI, and requirements of each Pinata really changes how you play the game every time, and makes some unique gardens. However, some of the Pinata requirements to move in are a bit excessive, and require a bit too much sacrifice.
Though your garden is catered to your Pinatas, it grows into a life of its own. Sometimes your garden resembles a wet swamp, a large grassland, or a more traditional garden with mixture of gates and fences. No two gardens look the same, as you’ve got a lot of customizations and options. If you were playing side by side with a friend, after a few hours you would have completely different gardens. Every time it’s a new placement of plants, trees, water, fences, flowers, weeds, houses, and more. You get most of this from various shops you unlock during the game, and as you get a higher level more and more stuff is unlocked. This linear progression makes learning the game very easy for all ages, yet you don’t feel like you’re being slowed down, either. The game does a great job of offering a good bit of variety, without making it too complicated. In fact, one of the best features of the game is how it makes your gardens so different every time, by simply wanting to collect different Pinata.
The biggest disappointment in the game is when you hit your head on the top. You can only build your garden so wide, but also only have so much stuff in it. You get a fairly confusing menu that tells you how much stuff you are allowed to have in your garden. This is fairly annoying once you hit mid-game, as you constantly have to sell old stuff just to get new stuff. While doing this when you need the money isn’t a bad thing, being forced to do this because of a “limit” in-game is annoying.
Multiplayer isn’t so much multiple players, as you would assume. Instead, when you plug in a second controller, you both get to control the same cursor. This is helpful for a parent helping a child, for example. It isn’t exactly the most exciting thing for co-op gamers or competitive multiplayer gamers, either. The Xbox Live intergration essentially adds a Post Office to the game. You can send and receive packages that you make in-game. It doesn’t include the most exciting intergration with mutliplayer, but it still has some great value.
The great value comes from the variety, and is related what I am going to call the eco-system (though it is far more objective based than any real eco-system). There is a variety of seemingly different branches of Pinata, though this isn’t documented and is more from experience. You’ve got predators, birds, nocturnal, water, and such, as an example. Some look for a good meal, whether it is a smaller Pinata or a patch of flowers. Some look for a large pond or grassy fields to run or swim in. Some look for other Pinatas they like, such as certain birdcalls will attract other birds.
This eco-system, so to speak, will drive you to collect different Pinatas. Though the different types of Pinatas constantly overlap during your garden’s lifetime, you constantly have to make decisions about what Pinata you want to go after. You can’t “collect them all” on your first try, and starting new gardens is fun because of how the eco-system shapes your garden. You might get a ton of trees, a bunch of grass, or a huge lake to try to fill different requirements. This makes every experience different.
Each time you start a new garden, you retain the same level and your money. So you don’t have to worry about going through a repetitive tutorial, or even having to do boring tasks again and again to earn money. As soon as you’re done with your current garden, you get a new one with all the same benefits.