A game about cutesy piÃ±atas shaped like animals frolicking in a garden? Gag! Who would want to play that? Of course, this is all before the addiction kicks in, and what once seemed kiddie and simple, has become something so engaging you keep thinking about the game even after you’ve turned the power off, and hours have gone by because you always stick around for just one more event. Kiddie you say? You try getting one of those stupid deer to eat your blackberries, and then you can tell me if that isn’t hardcore.
THE STORY SO FAR
You are a new gardener, fresh to the Pinata island, and you are tasked with turning this wasted piece of land back into a flourishing garden all manner of piÃ±ata would want to visit. The story of Viva Pinata is practically just that, all set up with no execution, though you’ll learn some backstory of the game’s most fabled gardener as you advance through the game, but much like past sim games before it (as really, this is a sim down to the core) it really is about making your own fun.
When you start off, your piece of land is nothing more than scorched earth littered with debris here and there. From there, you’ll make the land fruitful, by pounding the ground with your shovel, and then after that you’ll plant grass. However, as you go about tilling the earth, a lone worm will show up. Now we are getting to the heart of the game.
Viva Pinata is many things at once, but overall the best definition would be that of a sim puzzler. You see, by changing the environment within your garden, you’ll open up the chance for new animals to show up, and with them showing up you open up even more possibilities. So while part of the game is making your garden all it can be, you’ll have to wrack your brain over some puzzles, such as how to juggle several different circumstances, just to make a certain animal appear.
Each piÃ±ata advances through the game in various stages. First up, piÃ±ata will make an appearance once certain criteria are met in your garden, such as having so much of your garden being this percentage of grass. In the appearance phase, you’ll get a cute introductory cutscene showing the black and white piÃ±ata (all wild piÃ±atas are black and white) and then occasionally you’ll seem them walking in the background throughout the world outside your garden. Once they have appeared, piÃ±ata will then visit your garden, meaning they actually cross the white line representing the outline of your garden, and to get them to visit you must meet other requirements, such as having corn planted. Next up, you’ll want to try and make these piÃ±atas residents of your garden, which is done by completing other requirements, such as having the piÃ±ata eat two of another piÃ±ata. You’ll know a piÃ±ata is a resident of your garden (meaning they’ll stay and walk around as they see fit in your garden area only) because they’ll change colors. The final step is you’ll probably want to mate your piÃ±ata, but first you’ll have to attract another piÃ±ata of the same species just like you did this other one, then both of those piÃ±ata must meet certain requirements, and then you must build them a house. After playing a little minigame where one piÃ±ata runs to the other, avoiding bombs so they can make the sweet sweet love, they’ll then next head to their house, where they don’t actually mate, but instead dance their little piÃ±ata hearts away, thus producing an egg which is carried in by a stork lady.
Yes, requirements is a big word in the game, and it can certainly become frustrating and tiring to juggle all these various needs to get what you want, but this complexity transcends the kiddie graphics of the game, because there is quite a lot of planning and thinking required for a game of this type.
As you advance through the game, you’ll discover new villagers, who will do everything from giving you seeds, to selling you goods, to providing your piÃ±atas with accessories they can wear, to performing on site calls as a doctor if a piÃ±ata gets sick (by getting beat up in combat). You can also purchase help so the micromanagement of your garden never gets too complicated, as you can hire people to water your plants, gather your goods, and watch out for bad guys.
Money also plays an important factor in the game, as you need money to heal your sick piÃ±atas to buying seeds and equipment you might need. There are two main ways to make money in Viva Pinata: 1) Plant items that you can sale (bushes and trees that produce fruit over and over make for good investments), and 2) Sale piÃ±atas you raise or bash them open with your shovel (don’t worry, no blood, only candy) and sell that for usually even a higher profit. Each money making scenario has its own risks and rewards, because if you get rid of piÃ±atas you might sale one you need, while with bushes and trees, if you don’t water them just right, you just wasted money on a good investment. Surprisingly, I found poison ivy to be a good investment and big cash cow (go figure) as it produces both seeds and petal tops pretty quickly, with the petals going for a good 100 each time. The downside to the poison ivy (continuing with the risk vs. reward mentality) is that if left unchecked, the quickly germinating and self planting plant will quickly spread and takeover your garden, and unlike many other plants, it actually costs you money to sale.
There are just so many little things you can do in the game, such as building fences to keep certain piÃ±ata safe from harm, raising money for your garden or raising a certain piÃ±ata to the best of your ability to see how they are placed on the Xbox Live leaderboards, to even being allowed to trade your piÃ±atas with a friend (complete with your own specialized tag) as you can pack up in a crate not only the piÃ±ata you “intended” to give them, but you can screw around with them as well, and do dastardly things such as sending them a sour piÃ±ata (black and red piÃ±ata who are cruel and will turn your piÃ±ata sick or drop sick candy that makes the piÃ±ata that eat them sour piÃ±ata as well) to have it be an infestation and problem for their garden.
For what recent games like Gears of War and Call of Duty 3 have done for the Xbox 360 by pushing the system into the realm of realistic depression (ie making ugly look good) Viva Pinata likewise does for extreme creativity and beauty. Though the game doesn’t push the world to look real, these are still some of the best graphics I’ve seen in a game yet. The design of the world is insanely creative and gorgeous, from the intricate detail of the piÃ±atas to the more comic looking items like trees. Playing Viva Pinata is like opening the greatest children’s picture book from your youth. The entire game is so bright and cheerful, it really creates a calming effect over the player, luring them into a peaceful and Zen zone.
Though not exactly on part with the graphics, the sound still comes close and is a really top-notch endeavor, as the music is really soothing, and listening to the distinctive audible sounds of the piÃ±atas is sure to bring a smile on your face as you listen to the ducks quack and the deer fight with the ants.
Who cares that this looks like a kid’s game? If anything, it looks like the inner kid in all of us that may have died off long ago or shut itself into some closet while adulthood and responsibilities took over. The gameplay is anything but kiddie, featuring a variety of tasks that will surely test the thinking ability of even the most hardcore gamer. Though not a game for everyone, for those who are up to the challenge of growing a garden, be prepared to lose yourself and precious hours as you find yourself constantly drawn to your little piece of piÃ±ata heaven.