If you’re my friend or my poor husband, you’ve heard me running around for months singing the following (to the tune of “La Cucheracha”):
Viva Piñata, Viva Piñata
It is a nice piñata game!
Viva Piñata, Viva Piñata
No two piñatas are the same!
Yet another piñata clone cries itself to sleep.
Before this week, though, it was a lie. All of my brightly colored papery pals were the same. Same colors, same Candyosity, same names. Never more.
Viva Piñata:Trouble in Paradise from Rare and Microsoft Game Studios builds on the original Viva Piñata formula of building a garden, attracting and breeding piñatas, and sending them off to children who enjoy their sweet sweet candy. Players who “dug” the original will like this one, because it has everything the first game has and more. New gardeners won’t feel left behind: the game has an excellent and reasonably interesting tutorial system that will set you up with gardening basics. Besides, it’s not that difficult a game.
That is not to say that VP:TIP is not without depth. As in the original, your job is to build and nurse a budding ecosystem literally from the ground up. Start with clearing enough grass or soil and you’ll attract adorable little Whirlms in your garden. They’ll soon attract Sparrowmints, who will eat the Whirlms and may themselves be eaten by a Buzzenge as a part of their Romance requirement. It’s all a part of the great circle of life. Or something.
VP:TIP improves on the original in several ways. First, it simplifies the menu system, particularly the buying and selling aspects. Gardeners can now just highlight objects for sale and they are automatically marked, rather than having to trudge all the way to the village. On the retail side, objects are placed immediately in the garden right before the money (chocolate coins) changes hands. This saves you “travel time” and really helps in letting you preview how you want to plan your garden. Check out this gameplay footage:
Other improvements include the introduction of an actual storyline. Professor Pester, leader of the sour piñatas, has a plan to destroy this paper paradise forever. He’s a man (a “straw” man?) with a plan, which both unfurls and unravels as you level up your garden. The Prof’s intrusions can range from just sending Sour Shellybeans to eat up all your seeds to building stone walls that keep essential piñatas out of your garden until you can pay to knock the walls down.
I mentioned “no two piñatas are the same”, and this time its true. Not only can you still name each and every piñata, and design a custom tag for it, but they also all have varying states of happiness. These states are known as the piñatas’ “Candiosity”, and are an indicator of how happy your paper pal is in your garden. The higher Candiosity level, the more your piñata is worth, and the more likely that she or he will stay in your garden and make lots of little piñatas.
The Prof’s machinations, along with a more structured mission system (usually “raise a piñata with maximum candiosity and ship it somewhere around the world”) really add to the adventure without taking away from the sandbox feel.
Rounding out the new features are opportunities to leave the garden, both in game and out of game. In game, you can use signposts to nip off to such exotic locations as the Dessert Desert and and the Pinarctic region. You don’t play in these gardens – you go there, capture new and exciting piñatas, and bring them to your home garden. Out of game, you can search other folks’ gardens if they are on XBox Live, or use the Xbox Live vision camera to scan piñata cards (ala Sony’s Eye of Judgement) and import new piñatas into your garden. Full garden multiplayer, both at home and via XBox Live, completes the set.
If this all sounds like a lot, it is because it is, which is one of the chief issues with the game. The problem is not that it is too deep, but rather that there is too much thrown at the player too fast with not nearly enough space to use it all. For example, in order to get a pair of piñatas to do their Romance Dance (mate) they need a home. Each species of piñata has its own type of home, and even the smallest of these, the modest Whirlm home, consumes a considerable amount of real estate. By the time you’ve built the Sweetle home required to complete the final tutorial mission, you’re out of room for more piñata homes unless you significantly tear up your little slice of heaven. Your garden size does increase, but the first bump isn’t until level 12, by which time you’ll really need the extra space.
The more things change, however, the more they stay the same. The developers obviously spent a lot of time lovingly crafting piñatas and items. Why, then, could they not manage to record all new bits for the speaking characters? As far as I know no one had a deep-seated attachment to the exact phrases spoken by shopkeeper Lottie Costalot as she swindled you out of your coins. In fact, most of her phrases (and the other villagers’) were pretty annoying. There are some new spoken bits, but most of it is reruns.
All in all, though, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is a worthy sequel to Viva Piñata. The visuals have been upgraded, and the piñatas actually look like paper. The game controls better, and the new Romance Dance cutscenes are hysterical and adorable. If you haven’t seen a VP Romance Dance, check one out below.
The bottom line is that if you don’t like sandbox games or god games, you’re not going to start liking them with Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. If you do enjoy them, and particularly if you enjoyed the original Viva Piñata, you’ve got a lot of love coming in this title. Share it with your friends! Just beware of papercuts.
I’m giving Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise 4 Weiñatas out of 5.
P.S. If you have no idea what these creatures look like, check Rare’s gallery at VivaPinata.com