Top critical review
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Once the vibrant visuals and love sickness dies, we see the true colours...
on 6 January 2008
...No this isn't my love life I'm talking about, but raved Rare's latest Microsoft exclusive title Viva Piñata.
Presumably a backlash towards Nintendo's highly successful Animal Crossing on the Cube and DS, and Harvest Moon for the Playstations, Viva Piñata fills the void of happy-go-lucky, family Sim/ God-games on the Xbox 360.
Now released on PC, Viva Piñata transfers its beauty across platforms surprisingly well, assuming you don't have a P.C. Windows has randomly pulled out of a hat and decided it doesn't like.
You're approached by Leafos, the daughter of a world famous gardener who revolutionised the way their world raised and co-existed with `Piñatas', cuddly and colourful animals made purely of sweets.
Your objective is to clean and expand your garden whilst welcoming all types of these Piñatas as possible. To do this, you must fulfil a habitat that suits they're typical needs i.e. grow specific fruits or breed another species they like to feed on.
Once in your garden, make `em lovey-dovey with another of their kind then build a house for them to Barry White all night long in, if you know what I mean? Once done, you've earned your breeding certificate for that Piñata hence gained experience levels needed to pursue forward.
At first there's a surprising amount of strategy in place for such a simple concept. Leafos will quite promptly explain the basics of how to build the garden and as your experience grows, new friends will help expand your canvas.
The problem dawns 10 hours in, having cleared most of the initial obstacles when you realise Viva Piñata expands but doesn't evolve into anything deeper. Once you've found characters to make gardening and safe-keeping easier, there's not much more to do besides finding more varieties of Piñatas.
Unlike Harvest Moon that allows you go raise a family, and most others alike that give you giant worlds to explore (Pokemon), You're set in the same playing field for the entirety. There is a story, but it's there mainly for light-hearted comedy (in which it is was enough to make my 21 self belly chuckle a few times) as opposed to progressing game play any further.
What this essentially comes down to is lack of rewards. The first few times you receive a new Piñata; you give a wild giggle to its visual presentation. But it will become old hat, and the developers don't take things to the next level.
There are countless minor problems, regardless of the various bugs many have experienced, not least the item screens set completely out of the main action.
Whilst this expresses a great level of effort of detail, taking the player to shops on another screen feels quite disjoined and tiresome when having to do countless times.
Want to buy some plant seeds? This will mean clicking through 5 screens, pressing OK 8 times before you get what you want. Next, you want to build a house. Again, 5 screens, 8 clickes, etc. It's fiddly!
Highlighting the correct item also bears some difficulty when you're area becomes crowded. Often I've tried to sell a plant and ended up selling a house next to it instead. This isn't helped by the fact that the camera is zoomed to close into the action, even when you scroll away. The only way to get a remotely good view of the scenery is via the static bird's eye view.
I give kudos to the ambient soundtrack. Although not highly original, it certainly keeps the atmosphere in the right place, however I would have loved a fair few more tracks.
Not to mention the refreshing visual style. This game certainly looks charming. Indeed, it's all pretty cutesy, kiddie stuff, but this is not a kids game if you don't choose it to be. I took on this game having just come out of Post Mortem (a PC game, not me personally!).
Even without the highest graphic settings (I had to play on medium settings as this is pretty high end stuff) I felt like I was getting a game made in 2007. The only game I've played on the PC remotely like Piñata is Psychonauts (albeit that game's darker). The character designs are pretty much like out of a children's early morning television show, but it brings out a smile on those all ages just like all those classics we all grew up on did.
If this is for the younger gamer, this will hold their attention for a while, but it can become apparent even for them that not enough new is happening over time.
This game kept my 10 year-old sister and myself wildly amused for the first day, but after night passed, we already found ourselves drawn back to previous titles we were playing, where the story and game play were continuously giving us so much more.
This game represents the great representation we've seen in most of Rare's titles (Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye) but it doesn't attempt to revolutionise the genre, or even keep in pace with the competition. Thank god then that Pinata has just The Sims as competition on the 360. But for us PC owners, apart from exceeding graphics, nothing mildly new is brought to the playing field.