Legal stuff before I begin
Any TL;DR post will result in a report.
Thanks to Google for providing the images.
I make no promises this won't be a fan boyish review. I will try to keep the fanboy in check, though.
Viva Pinata, developed by Rare and released in November 2006 for the X-Box 360 is, well, a very hard game to label. It is a life simulation game in one aspect, but it is also a Gardening Sim as well. Well, no matter, it's time to pick up your shovel, grab your watering can and your grass seed packets and dive into the world of Viva Pinata.
Normally, I like to begin my reviews with an over-view of the story. Of course, this review will be no exception. So, here we go then. There is not really a story to Viva Pinata. There is no real 'goal' to the game, no real plot except for the plot of land you must turn into a paradise for Pinatas but more on that later on when it's relevant, the only real indication of what you have to do is told to you very bluntly. At the beginning of the game, you are given a brief history of the game. In short, a very famous gardener made a garden that could attract all type of Pinatas. However, this gardener vanished, his garden fell into ruins and Pinatas left the garden and the surrounding area. Now, you, the player, are tasked with the job of restoring a wasteland back into something beautiful, amazing and something that looks like the creator has OD'd on LSD and helping restore the lost glory of the once glorious Pinata Island. After a brief tutorial, it throws you in headfirst, says, "Right, get your ass in gear, boy!", and leaves you without an obvious goal, scratching your head with a shovel and wondering what just happened.
While this might sound like hell for some of you reading, the fact Viva Pinata does not have a story works in towards making this game what it is, a complete bundle of fun and free form. Having no set goal or actually anything to aim for is refreshing and is part of what makes this game appealing. All too many games force you to do something in a certain way, due to the story of said game. Due to the lack of a an obvious story and because there is nothing telling the player to do a certain task, you can play this game very much your own way, letting you make your own garden in whatever way you see fit and set your own goals and targets to aim at. You could have only a handful of Pinata species in it; you could have as many as you want and you could even have only one type of Pinata species and fill the garden with plants and trees. The amount of different ways to play the game is endless, which leads to a more open-ended game and a different kind of play style through out the game, making each time you play Viva Pinata a fun and unique experience.
It's exactly what it looks like.
With the story, or indeed the lack of a story thereof, Viva Pinata does rely on its game-play mechanics a lot more then other games do. And if Viva Pinata is unplayable, it has nothing going for it. Thankfully, the play-ability holds up well, even today. The controls are simple and easy to use and it is here the game-play excels, along with Viva Pinata's eco-system, which the creators lovingly dub "The Doughnut of Life", which refers to the food-chain Rare has placed into the game, which means other Pinata's will attack other Pinata's and 'eat' them, much like animals do in real life. Onto the meat and gravy of the game, you can plant seeds to grow trees, plants and fruit and these must be watered and kept safe if you want your garden to look nice. All of this can be done by using the D-Pad to select your spade, watering can or grass seeds, which are automatically hot-keyed for you and is taught to you in a brief tutorial after you start a new garden. The plants are also sometimes used to attract certain types of Pinata, which I will explain more about and various other Pinatas hunt other Pinatas, much like animals hunt each other in the real world. Mainly, the key to Viva Pinata is, you guessed it, Pinatas. Specifically, the attracting of Pinata's into your garden. To attract Pinatas to your garden, you must first fulfil some set requirements, have x% of your garden covered in long grass, having their garden covered with x% of ponds or having a certain type of plant or other Pinata. Now, it is only a visitor, you must fulfil a new list of requirements to make it yours to keep. Upon doing so, it shall gain its colours and stop being black and white, and become a part of your pinata family.
So, now you have your Pinata, soon you will acquire it a mate and you want to get another one of those Pinata's quickly, without fulfilling the old requirements. Well, put on the romantic music, turn the lights off and light some candles, as Viva Pinata has some sexy times. Meet the required 'Romance Requirements', the two Pinatas will head off into their house and you'll be treated to a mini-game, where you must navigate a Pinata through a maze to its mate. Upon completion, you are treated to a mini-cutscene, which shows you the Pinatas doing a 'Romance Dance'. Thankfully, if you do romance two Pinatas again, the maze will be a little bit tougher, so you have a bit more of a challenge every time you do it. It is a nice little touch that adds replayability. After that, you await the arrival of Storkos, a sort of flying person slash stork hybrid person and who really does little else, who delivers the egg and then you wait for it to hatch, upon doing so, you receive a new baby Pinata which doesn't take long to grow into an adult Pinata.
So sweet but deadlier then Swine Flu, which hit my garden and killed four Whirlms. Alternatively, that may have been my shovel.
This is basically all that happens in Viva Pinata. Meeting requirements, although it works very well for the most part by always giving you something to do, soon gets a bit tedious and repetitive, especially in the latter stages. If you sink in enough hours into the game and you get about two new Pinatas in 10 hours of playtime, you will be left wondering why you are doing this. Grinding out requirement after requirement soon becomes akin to grinding for hours in an dull RPG, dull, boring and about as much fun as being given wedgies by 'The Expendables' cast. While there is a little bit more to the game-play, keeping the Sour Pinatas, evil versions which can be tamed, Ruffians and their nasty leader Dastardos from trashing and destroying your garden, the attacks by them never really happen enough for my liking. Add to that you can actually buy items from the in-game shop using the in game currency, which is earned by selling plants, Pinata's and numerous other things, to stop these attacks happening out-right, any challenge outside of the requirements is gone if you do so. It does feel like Rare have hidden the training wheels nearby and are prepared to whip them out for you at any stage, in case you wobble slightly. There is very little to do to your pinatas when you have them as well, except for the exception of being able to 'evolve' certain pinatas into an advanced species. While there are a few, there are no hints as to what species can evolve, leaving you to spend a long time just making a Sparrowmint eat various plants, hoping it'll turn into a Candary which will eventually grate if you make no progress after about 2 hours of feeding a Pinata different plants.
All that said, I always find myself getting drawn back in for a couple of hours a week, to tweak away at those requirements, plant pretty flowers and grow trees that grow gems on them. This may be in part due to my massive fan-boyism of the game, which I've put aside for this review, it also may be due to the graphics, which on a console dominated by dull greys and browns, the bright greens, blues and reds of Viva Pinata certainly do make a big difference and serve as a helpful reminder that grey and brown aren't the only colours around. However, it is actually down to the humour of the game I keep going back to it. For a "kiddies" game, and I use the term "kiddies" very loosely there, it certainly does have a lot of dark humour within it. When a Pinata is killed and eaten by another Pinata, you hear children cheer, there are a lot of sex references hidden through out the game and the mating mini-game is questionable, as are the dances afterwards. All in all, it sounds like this game is a very risque game despite what you hear about it and that it should have Guardian readers spitting tea all over their papers and screaming to "Ban this sick filth before it corrupts our children's minds!" But all the hints at sex, the light hearted outlook on death and maybe at times incest, are hard to spot unless you're either a teenager and going through that wonderful phase in life known as 'puberty', well aware of these topics yourself through the wonderful process called learning or are old enough to know what they all mean anyway. Besides, the parents are to bla-
Save this for another rant, idiot! - Sassafrass's non-Dr. Cox side. Anyway, moving swiftly on.
Yes, that is a bear behind the horse. Yes, it is about to eat him.
So, after all that, would I recommend you to buy Viva Pinata? Yes, I would. While it does have its flaws and little to no story at all, it is a very enjoyable game that will put a smile on your face. While it might get repetitive after a while, those hours spent nurturing plants, raising pinatas and trying and failing to find out how to evolve them while be the happiest and most fun filled hours you can have without being screamed at by somebody over a head-set. Unless you're in a party chat with a few people playing MW2. Then you might get shouted at.
Alright, time for the fan-boygasm. *Ahem* This game is simply the best game ever made and if you disagree with that, kindly go get eaten by a Horstachio then murdered by small children. That is all. Oh, and I also had the almighty Dragonache. That was a fun Pinata to have. Eight eyes and all of them for me. God, I loved Snugglebuns so much. *Sniffles*
Thanks for reading, any and all comments are appreciated, unless they are personal insults towards me or other users.