Review by extempore

"Pinata Fun"

Viva Pinata

A quick glance at this game and you'd think this is a perfect gift for your 7 year-old niece or nephew. After all, it's colorful, the characters are cuddly wuddly, and what about the commercials? A talking, arrogant horse and a gender confused hedgehog more than adds up to a $50 early Christmas gift.

However, if you're willing to risk your manliness and supposed maturity to test drive the latest from Rare, you would be pleasantly surprised to discover the amount of fun you're having. But would you tell anyone?

Cut & Dry
The game takes place on Pinata Island where gardeners try to attract and breed pinatas to ship out all over the world to various parties. This builds experience for the pinatas and increases the overall worth of the creature while increasing your garden's value.

Obviously, a pinata has candy. And if you're so inclined, you can allow your pinatas to each other. It's a little disturbing when your fox eats a sparrow and the resulting shower of candy turns all nearby animals into a feeding frenzy. But alas, this is one of the ways you can fill your resident pinatas with candy. By eating other pinatas. Sick, right?

You start off with a good-sized plot of land. It's hard, packed soil. Unusable for growing. Thus starts off the tutorial. You will become quite adept with the shovel (which becomes upgraded), the all-purpose tool. The shovel can dig deep holes for ponds, create tiny holes for seeds, and whack around any misbehaving pinatas that are wrecking havoc in your idyllic garden.

As your garden grows, you will soon receive 'visitors'. Pinatas will not enter your garden, but stand at the outer boundaries, looking in quite curiously at your growing foliage. There are different requirements that must be met to achieve a certain pinata. There is the appear requirement, which is something small that would pique the interest of a specific pinata. There is the visit requirement, which is something a little more substantial in your garden that would make the pinata ENTER your garden. And then there is the resident requirement, which is sometimes complex, that would make your visiting pinata a permanent resident. It's a complex stack of puzzles.

Fun & Free
What makes Viva Pinata so great is the fact...there is really no established goal in this game. If anything, it's to explore your world. You are rewarded with evolved pinatas if certain requirements are met. I was surprised to discover if I made my whirlm (a worm) eat a turnip, it evolved into a purple variety of the same species. I've also heard there are certain pinatas that can be cross-bred to create a different species. Such pleasant, surprising accidents are sprinkled throughout the game and it keeps the player striving to collect all of the pinatas.

Candy Juice
Of course, one of the biggest features of Viva is the romance dance of all the pinatas. To initiate this, you must fulfill requirements that are scaled in difficulty to the species of pinata. If requirements are met, you engage in a mini-game maze of your two species. It's very simple, but also can be frustrating.

After successful mating, the Storkos will drop off an egg at your species house and in about a day, you will have a new family member to add. Now what you do with the newborn is up to you, but personally, I like to breed expensive animals and sell them for a huge profit. Yes, it's an evil enterprise, but farming is still a business.

Viva la Wow
Graphically, this game is beautiful. If you loved the graphics of Kameo, then you will be blown away by the details of each pinata. The animations are fluid, the day and night atmosphere really changes, and real-time weather effects are a beautiful thing. One thing I forgot to mention: This is a real-time game. Except when you are in a menu or at the store, the world continues to move at a rapid pace. A real-world second translates to a minute game-time. At certain parts of the day, specific animals will come visit your garden and if you time it just right, you can quickly nab them to become residents. Little details like this are what makes this game shine and so addictive. The sound effects are quite rich and get the job done. Each animal makes its own, unique noise (or none at all) and the music is a very toned down orchestratic piece.

The multiplayer aspect is a little lacking, but functional. You can go to the Post Office and ship out anything in your garden to a friend on your Friends list. So if they need a certain species to meet a requirement, you can work out a trade and ship them a Horstachio for five Whirlms and a Shellybean. You can also send money (if you're so generous) or plants or houses. Basically, anything in your garden.

And it's a wonderful, giddy feeling when you're tending in your garden and a prompt comes up with "You've got mail at the Post Office!". Each shipping crate comes with a specific "Tag" which you can decorate to your desires. There are several possibilites of design and it guarantees that you will probably never see the same one twice.

Smash & Grab
If you're into real-world sims or if you focus more on the economy in Warcraft than fighting, I suggest you get this game. If you secretly enjoy the claymation or CGI movies that have been coming out, I suggest you get this game. It's cute, it has heart, and it's very refreshing in this glut of FPS and the flagship game of GOW.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/15/06

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