Review by Malorkus

"Get whacked."

Pinatas are a disaster waiting to happen. Think about it - pinatas encourage violent behavior. They promote violence in children by having them beat the hell out of innocent paper animals with a baseball bat. Like blood-thirsty fiends, these youngsters charge after the candy that falls out, shoving and kicking each other down in a brutal game of survival of the fittest. The next thing you know, these once-innocent children may be out on the street whacking real-life animals with bats and stealing their candy blood. I'm honestly surprised the soccer moms have not pushed for a federal ban on these things yet. Fortunately, Rare has turned the twisted and often disturbing world of pinatas into a friendly and vibrant atmosphere. A simulation game of sorts, Viva Pinata features living, breathing pinatas that you can raise, feed, mate, or destroy. It's the bizarre and nonsensical type of concept that we have come to know and love from the company after all these years, and with the features of worldwide play, the possibilities are limitless.

At first, your garden will be nothing more than a poorly-maintained wasteland filled with shattered bricks, old tires, and other unwanted debris. A masked girl named Leafos will be crying because the legendary gardener's land is in shambles. Boo-hoo. Fortunately, you have your trusty shovel by your side which you can use to shatter debris and unearth riches in the soil. Unfortunately, your shovel is ragged and has a broken spade, limiting its capabilities, but it will have to do for now. Once you clear out the debris and collect the chocolate coins that fall out, the garden is ready for renovation. With your shovel, you have the ability to hammer the hard, crusty dirt into soil. Suddenly, a worm pinata (called a Whirlm) grabs notice of your lofty soil. For you see, the pinata has fulfilled its “visiting requirement”. Each pinata has its own criteria your garden must meet in order to appear. For instance, some pinatas will only appear if you have a certain flower growing, another specific species of pinata, certain types of turf and landscape, etc.

But getting a pinata to visit is merely the first step. To get them to actually become residents of your garden is a whole different story. Leafos will then provide you with an everlasting package of grass seeds. This grass can be sprinkled anywhere that you have soil. For the Whirlm, a patch of grass in the garden fulfills its resident requirement, which is when it loses its gray colors and becomes a permanent resident of your garden. With your first resident, the game suddenly becomes much more open-ended. Gradually, shops open up via the main menu built for specific needs. For example, the house-building shop will likely be the first service available. The owner will offer to build you a house for your Whirlm family for free, but all future constructions will come at a hefty chocolate coin price. These coins can be obtained by smashing debris or selling unwanted materials. At other shops, you can purchase seeds, candy, decorations for your garden, etc. Each of these locales will open up gradually as your garden grows and expands.

Still in the tutorial phase, a second Whirlm will eventually crawl up to your garden, grabbing attention of your current one. Pinatas are not limited to specific genders, so once you have more than one of a specific breed, you have the ability to romance them. Just like how they have criteria to meet for residence, your garden must meet certain romance requirements in order for breeding to occur. When romanced, your pinatas will engage in a humorous and entertaining dance in their home, which apparently qualifies as cheap intimacy on Pinata Island. After a brief period of time, an egg will be delivered to your garden, which will eventually hatch and grow into a pinata of the same species. You will want to romance pinatas for various reasons. Certain pinatas are common “bait”, meaning that other pinatas will actually attack and eat one of your residents in order to fulfill both their requirements and personalities. The Whirlm is the prime guinea pig here, being very easy to breed and a common appetite for other pinatas.

On that note, not everything is always sunshine and gumdrops on Pinata Island. While most pinatas will interact with each other without any problems, like pirates and ninjas, a few pinatas are natural born enemies. For instance, a Sparrowmint (bird) may often get in a scuffle with a Syrupent (snake). A fight sequence will ensue in a battle to the death, and the final standing contender will feast on the opposing pinata's candy remains. Unless you are a sadistic gardener who enjoys innocent-looking pinatas beating the living hell out of each other, it is your duty to break up the fights by violently whacking one of the fighters with your trusty shovel. If you whack a pinata too many times, however, your pinata will grow ill. Sickness can also result from eating poisonous plants or failure to end a fight quickly enough. This can be dealt with by phoning the hospital and paying a small fee to recuperate them. Failure to take action will result in a visit from Dastardos, the pinata grim reaper. Whack a pinata enough times, and it will break altogether, causing candy to bust out that the other pinatas will gladly devour.

The game has its own specialized clock that determines day and night. Certain pinatas are nocturnal and will only emerge at night, while daytime pinatas will slumber. Your status as a gardener is determined by numbered “levels”. You will gain levels through attracting additional pinatas and growing varieties of plants throughout your garden. The higher your level as a gardener, the more features become available to you. For instance, you will receive shovel upgrades every few levels or so which will enable you to do things as dig holes for seeds and create your own ponds. Ponds will also attract certain aquatic pinatas, and others may occasionally take a sip of water from them. Seedos is an odd masked man who will intermittently wander through your garden sprinkling seeds everywhere. When planted, these seeds will steadily grow into flowers or trees that can give your garden some bonus points. Not all seeds are good, however, as certain plants like poison ivy will only act as weeds that will make your pinatas sick. In addition, these weeds take forever to destroy, but their seeds can be sold to the store for a high chocolate coin price.

As your level rises, your garden will expand and new challenges will appear before you. More sour pinatas and garden savages will attempt to destroy advanced gardeners' work, and you must consistently fight to keep them off. Naturally, this has a tendency to get rather tedious after a while, and prevents you from being able to do things at your own pace when you are constantly multitasking with so many events at once. The one major flaw in the game comes in the form of this tedium that occurs constantly. But on the other hand, it prevents things from becoming stale, as something new and exciting is always happening on Pinata Island. In addition, Viva Pinata takes full advantage of the features of Xbox Live. Using its features, you can visit other people's gardens from around the world. There, you can get ideas for your own garden from other people and interact with their pinatas. You can even trade pinatas from garden to garden! This worldwide network of gardens makes the game one of the best uses of Xbox Live in the 360's early library.

Viva Pinata is one of those games where you just have to get over your sense of insecurity about a childish exterior in order to enjoy a fantastically creative title. The world of living pinatas is bizarre, colorful, and exceptionally captivating. Not only is the game an innovative take on the simulation genre, but it's an addictive one, as well. After you work your way through the slightly tedious tutorial phase, an immense world opens up to you. There is always something to keep you entertained on Pinata Island, whether it be gardening, raising families of pinatas, or warding off unruly home-wreckers. And while the game is expansive enough by itself, the features of Xbox Live help to expand it that much further. Additionally, the visuals are absolutely breathtaking. Even though the game unfortunately sold like ass and Bill Gates, in a drunken state, moronically called it a game for little girls (though I'm sure little girls will enjoy it too), fans of the simulation genre will no doubt want to check this glorious title out. Like any pinata, this game may have a colorful exterior, but deep inside lies a delicious treasure trove of candy.

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/05/08, Updated 02/20/14

Game Release: Viva Pinata (US, 11/09/06)

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