Although it might, to some people, have seemed a somewhat childish and overly colourful zoo-tycoon-style misadventure, Viva Piñata generated a great deal of fans who loved it for its colourful graphical effects and surprisingly deep gameplay.
It's one of the few true family titles on the Xbox 360 that can be played by all ages, and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is finally a true sequel. It shows that Rare has been listening to the fans of the original, and has made good on many of their requests and desires.
Piñatas, for those who are not yet familiar with the term, are the highlight of many a party. Essentially it's a toy- and lolly-filled container that is bashed open by a blindfolded birthday child (or adult, as the case may be) with an enormous bat. The container is covered by hundreds of strips of colourful paper and normally shaped to look like an animal of sorts.
Fortunately, the Viva Piñata games involve very little dangerous bat swinging, and far more cultivating of the cute little (and big) piñatas.
In Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, you are again cultivating your beautiful garden and attracting a range of piñatas to it, where you work on filling their "candiosity" to make them more valuable at parties (and to sell). Unfortunately for you, Professor Pester has destroyed Piñata Central’s piñata database which means there are no records of any piñatas. It is your job to restore these records by cultivating piñatas and sending them off to Piñata Central where they can be distributed to parties. In doing this you will both help Piñata Central restore its piñata records, and thwart Professor Pester’s demonic plans to become the ruler of all piñata.
With you now having to essentially fulfil orders by sending piñata all around the world, the game has a far more structured feel than the first, which often felt too big and directionless.
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise contains 32 new species of piñata, which will give even a hardened Viva Piñata veteran something to look forward to. However it does not feel terribly different to the first, but this seems to be a good thing. You still attract piñatas in a range of ways, by having greater water areas, long grass, short grass, sand and snow in your environments. With more advanced piñata you will need to attract them by having other piñata in your gardens, or certain plants and seeds.
Most of the game is based on the logics of the real world, and some things just seem to be common sense, but this only goes so far, and the rest of the game is run with the help of the in-game piñata manual, and of course, simple experimentation. A Squazzil (Squirrel) for example will come into your garden when you plant and cultivate a hazelnut tree. By cultivate, I mean plant the seed, water the seed and generally look after the tree while it is growing. You will also need to weed your garden to ensure your piñata remain happy and nurtured, but we will cover this more later on.
As you advance levels and become a more experienced gardener, more piñata will come to live in your garden and you will gain new tools with which to enhance the art of piñata cultivation. This includes upgrades to your spade allowing you to break stronger objects, as well as dig ponds. Similarly, it's possible to upgrade your watering can to a greater capacity, which will be needed for growing some of the trees and plants.
Personally, I enjoy growing the plants as it does require care and attention so as not to let them dry out, and has the positive side effects of generating goodies for piñatas to eat, or to sell, and naturally the beautification of your garden. Of course you can also visit Madam Costolot’s store with its overpriced fertiliser and seeds, as well as objects to beautify your garden.
You can now also visit a store to buy accessories for your piñata, be they moustaches or clothing items which can make them look positively ridiculous. Aside from that it is also a great deal of fun to experiment with your piñatas, feeding them different fruit etc. to see what effect it has on them, and to possibly create a new variation of the same piñata!
A nice new addition to the game is the ability to now buy seeds directly from the quick menu, as opposed to going into the store. Similarly fertiliser can be applied this way as well. This speeds up gardening substantially and helps the game to flow more, rather than being interrupted by constant visits to the store. This applies to selecting piñata as well, which can now be done simply by cycling through them using RB and LB. There is also now a trick stick, which can be used to teach any piñata tricks. First you need to find out what makes your piñata go bananas, and then while they are reacting you hit them with the trick stick to make them remember the trick, and bingo, you have a more valuable piñata that can perform a trick on command.
All of this may seem like a great deal of work, which is why Rare has included helpers which can be hired in the local milk bar. Sprinklings, Weedlings, Gatherlings, Watchlings and Diggerlings. The former two are reasonably self-explanatory. The Gatherlings collect fallen produce and sell it on your behalf, the Watchlings allow you to ban certain piñata from your garden, and the Diggerlings dig into the ground in search of treasure for you.
I have had limited success with some of these, and although they do take some work off you, I find I have to direct them all too often if work needs be done immediately as they are usually at the other end of the garden patrolling. I tried relying on my Weedling to rid me of some weeds, but a little while later, unbeknown to me, he had left for the evening and my piñatas were becoming sick from all the weeds. When the sun went up the next day I was in the heat of battle against these weeds, bashing them left, right and centre attempting to stamp them out, whilst my piñatas lay around the weeds wheezing, awaiting the arrival of the doctor. I assumed Weedling would be in at any moment to relieve the problem, however he must have had a sick day as he didn’t turn up, which I can only assume was a bug. Either that or he saw all the weeds I was battling and turned around and went to the pub instead.
The graphics are virtually identical to the first Viva Piñata. Bloom effects may have been toned down somewhat, but it still looks gorgeous. The flutter of each individual piece of paper on a piñatas body as it moves, and the water movements in the ponds you create, as well as the environment surrounding your garden. This game, at least in the early stages, is real relaxation.
It gets more difficult when the ruffians start coming around.
These are essentially Professor Pester’s cronies and they will move in to attack piñata, and to generally mess with your picture perfect garden breaking things and throwing weed seeds around. Initially a bang on the head with a shovel will get rid of them quickly, but later on you will need to start innovating. You can either pay them off to spare a piñata, or when you have a decently sized piñata you can have it chase them out of your garden.
Rare has also included new environments for you to capture new piñatas in. By clicking on sign-posts around your main garden you can travel to the desert or to the snow. Here a range of piñata will be wandering about, and you will need to set up traps and fit them with the right bait so as to catch them and bring them back to your main garden, where you will also need to match their habitat to make them happy.
Particularly welcome is the inclusion of a decent multiplayer mode. Now you can play online with friends in one garden. In fact, having a friend who is of a higher rank help you out means you can attract piñatas of a higher rank. It also helps to have a second shovel there helping you out when you need it. You are also encouraged to send piñata around the world to your friends, as Rare has done their part to start a piñata shipping chain by mailing a special elite piñata, which when shared unlocks an achievement; so start greasing up those friends of yours in the hope that somewhere along the line you will pick one of these up.
They also have included multiplayer on the one Xbox 360 for those people that still prefer having someone physically in the room with them when they play, and there are achievements available for playing these modes for a certain length of time, so social gaming is certainly being encouraged and emphasised in Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise.
Overall the improvements made to Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise make it a worthy purchase and a substantial step up on the original. It may feel like a an incremental update, but there is enough new content here to impress without having drastically changed what ultimately was already a winning formula. This is a game that will appeal to the whole family, but fortunately has sufficient depth to keep even adult gamers entertained.
If the graphic style appeals, and you want something light hearted with a splash of gardening then you will thoroughly enjoy Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise.