Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise Review

Lee Abrahams

It’s time to don your favourite pair of shades as the ultra-colourful and vibrant critters that inhabit Piñata Island are back with a vengeance (metaphorically speaking, Viva Piñata 3: The REVENGE will tell that particular story). Once again we’re all invited to lure in a wide variety of weird and wonderful creatures in a bid to make the most gorgeous garden possible. If you’re thinking that you should stop reading and get back to headshots on COD 4 then think again, this game is surprisingly deep and addictive just like the original and hopefully it won’t suffer the same fate of being tragically overlooked by the gaming community.

Rare’s history as a developer is patchy at best, obviously well known for hits like Goldeneye, it seems to have stumbled upon harder times since its move under the Microsoft umbrella. However, with the Viva Piñata games, they seem to have finally returned to form even if it’s not quite the form that diehard Rare fans might have been expecting. I may as well say right now that this game may not seem like a perfect fit for a console more renowned for first person shooters but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that it will soon take hold of you. To be honest I saw this, and the prequel, as little more than something to keep my girlfriend occupied but it wasn’t long before I was trying to wrestle control of the pad from her for one more go.

Spooky goings on around Piñata Island.

The story, such as it is, sees the villainous Professor Pester accidentally erasing all of the information about the inhabitants of Piñata Island, so it’s up to you to get it back. How do we accomplish this amazing race against time you ask, why through some laid back gardening of course. In truth, the story is simply there to excuse the fact you have to start again from scratch with a bare tract of land and a few simple tools. The game itself is more about being a gardening simulation and the story is just a tool to provide you with certain challenges to fulfil. Most players will soon forget about the whole story nonsense after the first cut scene and simply go about catching as many cute piñatas as they can and making their garden as wonderful as possible. The beautiful graphics and cuddly characters from the first game are all present and correct, so for veterans it will feel like stepping back into a familiar pair of slippers. Comfortable enjoyment awaits.

The premise is the same as in the first game, you have total freedom to tinker with your garden in a bid to lure in a variety of creatures. Planting a certain type of grass, growing different flowers and even having certain piñatas can all determine what type of visitors you get and it’s your job to entice them into becoming permanent residents. The ultimate pay off is seeing a visiting creature emerge from its black and white shell in a vibrant display of colour once it becomes a permanent guest. The sequel throws a number of new piñatas into the mix alongside all of the old favourites, and you can even trek off to some arctic or desert terrain to catch the local wildlife. Doing so will mean you’ll need to alter your garden to suit your new friend so that you don't risk it becoming disgruntled and heading off via the nearest exit. It’s a constant balancing act between keeping your current tenants happy while at the same time trying to attract more. You can also send piñatas off to meet certain challenges which the game throws at you, requiring you to nab a certain species and make it as happy as possible before packaging it off. It provides you with a bit of motivation to go after specific piñatas but to be honest you’ll be trying to get them all anyway so it seems superfluous in many ways.

Thankfully, there is a natural progression to ensure things never get boring. The more plants you grow and piñatas you attract, the more points you’ll earn and the higher your gardening level will become. As you reach higher levels then your garden gets bigger, your tools get stronger and a plethora of new flora and fauna becomes available. It means there are always new things to see and do, and makes sure things never get too dull. Plus, the later creatures can often require a complete overhaul of your entire habit and it means you are forced to try new things in order to land your desired target. In some ways it’s a shame, as it can lead to you dismantling a garden you’ve spent hours on, in a bid to make just one beastie feel at home. Though by the same token you are never actively forced to do anything, so you’re free to move at your own pace.

Be careful where you swing that shovel.

Obviously once you’ve acquired a new Piñata then it’s time to start some breeding, and each species has its own unique conditions before love can bloom. The romancing mini-game has also had a few tweaks as well, as you now have to grab a number of hearts in order to be successful – if you manage to snag them all in double quick time then you might even be in for greater rewards. The first time you romance a species you’ll be treated to a funny little dance which varies and some of them can be laugh out loud funny. That being said some of the conditions for romancing can seem a trifle ludicrous and long winded, so it all comes down to how much you want to see a fresh faced offspring. Lazy folks might take the simpler, but more expensive, step of employing the local hunter to track down the piñatas instead. The game suffers from the same flaw that the first game did, as you try to track down the larger creatures in the game you’ll notice that your garden (or more accurately your console) can only cope with so many creatures at once. So you’ll often have to get rid of a number of your cherished piñatas to make room for the big fellas.

The controls have had a few notable updates since the first game, but will still feel intuitive to people who have played before. Mercifully, you can now shuffle between all of the inhabitants of your garden at the touch of a button, making it easy to find the elusive creatures that tend to hide in trees and such. It removes a major pain from the first game as creatures just seemed to disappear when you were looking for them, only to be hidden away in an overlooked shrub. You can also drop seeds at the touch of a button via the imaginatively titled "Seed Bag", saving you constant trips to the store. In addition, you can now do a bit of hunting too, as you can set traps for creatures in the other climates in a bid to snag one for your own garden. The vision cam has also been thrown into the mix so that you can scan in creatures to join your garden or send an image of one of your creatures to a friend. The camera however tends to have a bit of trouble scanning though and it’s not really necessary to the game in any way, shape or form, so it seems to have been tagged on at the last minute.

A host of new critters are waiting to be lured in.

The most touted control change though is the ability to have up to four player co-op going on, either in the confines of your own home or online. It’s a nice way to show off your garden with your mates or even just pass a bit of time growing a garden full of pumpkins if that floats your boat. The system seems to work a lot better with just two people as then you can give each of them something specific to do (one waters and one digs) whereas with more players someone is always left feeling like the fifth wheel. There is also remarkably less freedom on offer too, as you are under the thumb of whoever’s garden you are in and can’t exactly go around chopping down their trees and scaring the wildlife if you so choose. It means that while the experience can be fun in the short term, you’ll soon be pining for your own garden and the complete control and freedom of choice that comes with it.

The achievements on offer can either be a chore or a breeze depending on how lazy you are and the equipment you own. If you are in for the long haul then they will gradually pop up over time as you acquire certain species and fulfil challenges ... if you can’t be bothered with all of that effort and have a vision cam then you could quite easily fulfil most of the achievements by scanning in the piñatas required to meet all of the criteria. The choice is yours, but with a vision cam in hand you can get most if not all of the points in a day. Some achievements do also specifically require the camera which is annoying if you don’t own one. The only struggle you’ll have is playing online with four people, so try and collar some friends, and also grabbing a famous piñata which have only been given out to a select few people. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding people to help though as this is a game for people with mellower dispositions.

Overall this is a game of high quality, with beautiful graphics and exceedingly high levels of charm. The only problem here is that there is simply not enough new material to really justify the game is little more than an expansion pack. Anyone who has played the original will find very little new material on offer here other then some new species to catch and a few throwaway mini-games to play. To be honest there is nothing here that couldn’t have been made available via DLC and if you’ve played the first game it seems a bit of a steep investment for more of the same. That being said this is a fundamentally better game as a few of the irritations have been ironed out and the co-op is a nice, if not entirely necessary, touch. The only real flaw is the size constraints that are placed on what you can have in your garden, as it can force you to compromise on what you really want in there. Basically if you’ve never played Viva Piñata I urge you to give this game a go, but if you already have the first game then you’d need a real love of the cute critters to dip back in for a second time.

Cute creature sounds and funky music, especially for the romance scenes. However, the voice acting of the characters is pretty terrible and you’ll soon switch it off.

Beautiful piñatas and a few more exotic backdrops for you to tinker in. The game is lush to look at and almost too sickly sweet.

Surprisingly deep and easy to get to grips with, once you get the hang of things you’ll soon be having a whale of a time. A few of the added features and games feel a bit tacked on but the core game is good enough to make you overlook those issues.

A superb gardening simulation that has no comparison on the 360, the game is easy to get to grips with and can keep you entertaining for as long as you have ideas in your head.

Surprisingly, for a sequel, the achievements seem a bit less interesting this time around. Certainly they are less time consuming if you have access to a vision cam but that would be kind of defeating the point.

A great gardening/breeding game that improves upon the original in many ways, but maybe not enough to justify you paying full price. For the people who have yet to experience the Piñata phenomenon you should pick this up – what’s kept you?

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