February 21, 2008
I love playing games but unfortunately my girlfriend isn’t quite so keen, so surely there must be some way to grab her acceptance, some game that will draw her into my world. Thankfully I didn’t even have to solve the problem myself as Rare and some video footage did it for me. Having been told in no uncertain terms how ‘cute’ this game looked I was given orders to march out and buy it. Finally I would have something to prove how great games were, as long as I didn’t have to ruin my tough guy reputation and actually play it. Then something strange happened as I watched her gardening, raising fluffy critters and buying tasteful ornaments; I found myself wanting a go. Then I found myself thoroughly enjoying pottering around in my virtual garden and was loathe to give the controller back. DISASTER – lured in by a girl’s game, surely this would be the end of me? Then I noticed that a lot of people on my friends list had already played it and decided that it couldn’t be that bad after all. Even tough guys like to unwind and Viva Pinata is the perfect game for that exact purpose.
I’m sure most people approaching this game will have been through pretty much the same scenario I mentioned above. They’ll have seen the reviews, watched the footage and decided that this was a game for kids and members of the fairer sex. Sadly such an outlook has probably hurt the sales of this superb game beyond all hope of a follow up, as the game is frighteningly addictive and easy to play. Rare have never quite lived up to expectations since joining Microsoft, after all this was the team that created Goldeneye: the classic among classics and yet, since their defection, they’ve shown very little of that self-same quality. Finally they succeed in creating a game that is never less than a delight and yet it has been criminally overlooked and forced to line the trade in sections of game stores everywhere. Shame on you general public, shame on you indeed but luckily I’m here to set the record straight.
At it’s core this game is a gardening simulation, pure and simple. Your aim in life is to make your garden just as you like it by straightening out the ground, laying down grass, growing a variety of plants, having a smattering of ornaments and, of course, introducing or enticing a variety of critters to inhabit your patch of land. The twist being that all of the animals are in fact colourful Pinata’s who each have their own list of requirements before they will become a permanent resident. You also have a number of non-pinata residents who will give you helpful advice along the way, as well as a variety of shops that can fulfil all of your gardening needs.
Once you have decided that gardening is the life for you then it’s time to strap on the marigold gloves and head out to your dirt patch. You are armed with a shovel which can fulfil a number of tasks; it can flatten out your land, remove debris, dig small holes for plants or bigger ones for ponds, it can also bash nasty pinatas or be used to break up a fight between rival ones. Your first job is to make your garden presentable and this is used as a tutorial to the basic controls, it’s a clever idea as rather than being separate to the experience it actually takes the form of your first steps in making your perfect paradise. You’ll learn how the shovel works plus how to lay grass, plant seeds and water plants. Eventually your garden will be nice enough to attract the first of many visitors: a whirm. This little creature will eventually make your garden his home and you are free to name him, create a unique label for him or even build him a nice house to inhabit. Once you’ve got the basics down then you are free to take your garden in any direction you desire; if you want it to be a lush paradise willed with plants and trees then you can do it, similarly if you want to dig up most of the soil and create a water based theme you can do that too, it’s entirely up to you to design the garden you want.
The more you do in your garden the more you will increase your gardener level, the higher levels allow you access to an increased array of creatures, tools, shop items and garden space. With each new creature and plant you introduce into your garden you also have the opportunity to entice others, as certain piñatas will only visit your garden once another creature or plant is in residence. It’s then your goal to make them a resident, by leaving them treats or letting them eat one of your other piñatas. You have to sacrifice the little guys sometimes for the greater good. Growing and selling your plants and piñatas also gives you gold coins which can then be spent on a variety of goods.
There is a wide variety of plants that you can choose to furnish your garden with, ranging from simple flowers right up to mighty oak trees. Seeds can be bought from the store or gifted to you if you whack the wandering seed man who sometimes visits your garden. Plant life in your garden needs careful looking after for it to reach its full potential as you can grow a basic oak tree with a bit of watering but only by keeping an eye on it and fertilising it at the right times will it reach its full growth, and thus reward you with more harvestable crops. You can always sell your plants once they are at their peak for a bounty of coins, or keep them in the garden and sell off their valuable fruit once it drops to the ground. Plants will die after a time leaving one or more seeds depending on their quality, these seeds can then be replanted or sold as you wish. You can also hire assistants who will do the watering, planting and collecting for you so you can plant your favourites and then leave your underlings to monitor them for you. It’s also worth noting that certain plants can also create variant colour piñatas if they eat the right ones, so some experimentation is essential.
While plants can be a worthwhile distraction, the name of the game is piñatas; as the little critters come in such a variety of shapes and sizes that you’ll want to see them all. While the whirm may be the first thing in your garden it’s not until you’ve had an Elephanilla stomping around that you’ll be truly satisfied. In order to entice creatures in you will need a combination of other piñatas, plants, fruit and ornaments. Luckily you can examine any visitors to see what requirements you are missing, and your handy Notebook will store a record of all plants and creatures that have already been in the garden. The game generally allows you to work your way up the food chain, with each new creature opening the door to the next creature up the ladder. However, to attract the rarer beasts will require a number of often complicated tasks. This can get frustrating as you have no control over visiting creatures and getting them to eat certain piñatas or fruit to make them resident is more down to luck and perseverance than any kind of skill.
Once you have some piñata available you can then set about romancing your little hordes, as long as you have at least two of a species, by building them a little house. Each species has a different set of requirements for romancing which grow in complexity depending on the species in question; ranging from having them eat set foodstuffs or piñatas, to dressing them in certain outfits. Food and dress sense are still important even to lothario piñatas it seems. Once you’ve successfully paired up a couple of lovelorn beasties you will be required to pass a mini mating game. You take control of one piñata and have to guide him to his love through a maze, while avoiding stationary and moving loathers as hitting too many will result in broken heartedness. The maze will be easier for the ‘simpler’ piñatas and harder for the later ones, plus the more of a creature you have the less loathers you can hit. The maze’s are a nice bit of fun but can be frustrating for the harder creatures, still they are never made completely unfair and are generally well balanced. Once you are successful in the maze game they will retire to their home and perform the mating dance, which can often be gloriously funny. Then an egg will be delivered to hatch into another member of your brood. The game is made a lot easier after you have successfully bred a creature as you can then use romance candy in future to get creatures in the mood, rather than having to fulfil their romance requirements each time. You can also hire the huntress to go and catch a certain piñata for you, but that takes time and money.
Your garden and it’s inhabitants occasionally come under threat from Sour Pinatas and invading thugs, but you can usually see them off with a good whacking from your shovel. If you kill enough sour piñatas you can also build a sour tower to ward them off on a permanent basis, though expert gardeners will want to lure them in regardless and fulfil the residency requirements to make them into ‘good’ piñatas. Your own critters sometimes get feisty too and may start fighting among themselves, though this can be cooled down with a dowsing from the watering can or a whack of the shovel or even stopped entirely by buying the right ornament for your garden. Too much smacking and fighting can make piñatas ill though and that will require an expensive trip to the doctor, leave them too long and the villainous Dastardos will turn up to finish them off. You basically continue to plant and breed piñatas for as long as you want, as the game never really ends. There are a large number of plants and creatures to keep your interest for a long time, and the shops have a wide range of items to decorate your habitat with and provide a plethora or beneficial effects.
The game is amazing to look at and all of the plants and creatures are beautifully animated and extremely cute (there – I said it). Maybe they are too good looking, as once you start getting some of the bigger creatures wandering around it significantly reduces the number of other plants and piñatas that can be resident at the same time. This is probably more to do with graphical limitations than wanting to keep an uncluttered garden, which is a shame as it means if you are breeding up certain species then you have to make enough room to do so and that can require you to sell off some of your other fuzzy friends. Still the wonderful creatures on offer, and the zany dance routines they perform, mean you’ll want to grab as many as possible just to get a look at them. It’s especially nice that visiting piñatas start off back and white then burst into colour once they become a full resident.
The voiceover work is pretty good but limited to a variety of announcements and the shopkeepers, who tend to repeat the same few stock phrases. The piñatas all have their own little sound effects too and I’ve never come across a more pitiful sound (in a genuine way) than when one of your piñatas falls ill. The music is far superior, with every animal having their own theme and the in game music proving mellow and unobtrusive. It’s nice to see that such thought has been given to making each piñata as unique as possible.
Achievement wise this is a very good effort that will reward plenty of hard work and dedication. Practically every aspect of the game is covered so that points can be gained from dedication to plants, romancing and enticing piñatas and fulfilling factory requests (basically sending certain piñatas to a party by throwing them in a crate). You will probably get most of the points if you strive to collect every variety of plant and piñata but you will also have to go out of you way for others, such as breeding a rare Rashberry or using formally sour piñatas powers for your own benefit. The dreaded fifty hour achievement does stick out like a sore thumb though, as you should have completed the rest of the 980 point tasks long before then.
Nice voiceovers that are few and far between, but the animals make up for this with their own brand of chatter and their own individualised theme tunes.
Regardless of what else you may think this game is beautiful to look at, with every blade of grass and character given the same lavish effort.
This will fall into the love it or hate it category, as you’ll either be bored within five minutes or instantly hooked. Give it a chance though and you’ll soon see what the fuss is about
There is no other game like it and probably never will be which is a shame. It’s perfectly simple to pick up and play but also has enough depth and wonderful energy to keep you interested too.
A nice mix of achievements that will keep you striving for the next one as they often require you to do quite specific things in your garden in order to get the full set. However, playing the game for a full 50 hours is a pretty big ask considering the rest of the points will take a fraction of that.
A charming game that is a lot of fun once you get into it, backed up by wonderful visuals and an entertaining score it’s hard to see why this has failed to live up to expectations. It’s not going to be for everyone but with a little time you’ll soon fall under its spell. In a manly way.