Review by james2

"If you're willing to dismiss Viva Pinata on the basis that it looks a bit kiddy, then you're kidding yourself."

I've often argued that videogames are about relaxation, taking our focus off the things going on around us and letting our minds explore a fantasy world whereby we can relax and do pretty much anything we want to. Admittedly, I didn't mention anything about piñata and chocolate coins, but after sampling Viva Pinata, I'm more than willing to let these additions enter the frame. Rare's latest title is pretty much going down the pan, and it's easy to see why. The old saying “never judge a book by its cover” rings true as many gamers have shunned Viva Pinata's kiddy image in favour of more gritty titles such as Gears of War. Shame on them, because they're missing out on one of the Xbox 360's must-have games.

Viva Pinata is very much like being stuck inside the build mode of The Sims but with the attitude of Harvest Moon. An expert piñata gardener has decided to hang up his spade and pruners in favour of retirement and you gain access to his old plot, now overgrown with various debris. How you go about the game is entirely down to you; you're never penalised for going down a certain avenue which means you can explore to your heart's content without ever fearing of not being able to go back a few steps. In true Rare form, this cute and kiddy image covers a more sadistic nature and various adult innuendo and overtones in the sense that the piñata are infact part of a food chain. That means that certain piñata will eat other piñata species or even fight, whereas several members of a species can mate and produce offspring. The various weird-looking village folk, often clad in tribal uniforms and headdresses, spurt out innuendo at the most uncertain of times. Off you go to the shop to buy a new fountain, and you're greeted by the owner who remarks “Looking for something seedy? Oh, you know what I mean” before winking suggestively. Certainly not kiddy-like now, eh?

So, armed with just a shovel and a packet of seeds, you're left to your own devices. Exploring down the many different avenues of the food chain leads to you meeting new villagers that offer services, unlocking new items and other forms of piñata. For example, your very first visitor will be a whirlm (worm), attracted by the newly prepared soil and grass laid down. Soon after, it's natural predator, the sparrowmint (you can see where this is going), will appear and check out the garden. If it likes what it sees, you'll soon have another resident. And so the cycle continues, with piñata further up the chain visiting when certain requirements have been laid out of them, such as bee's only becoming interested when their favourite flowers are growing in your garden. Wild piñata will sometimes snack on their prey in your garden, although you're notified when this is happening so you can beat the living daylights out of it with your spade, whereas those that settle down as residents ignore their natural instincts and will only fight rival species, so it's not a great idea to try and be the next Noah. Once two of any species are in your garden, they'll stop visiting, so if you want more of that type you'll either need to arrange a deal with the unlockable hunter in the village, or build the pinata's specific breeding house and play some Barry White to get them in the mood.

Yes, that's right, piñata can breed. But before you get up to shut the curtains and take the phone off the hook, the action takes place in the form of a minigame in which you must guide one piñata through a maze to reach the other within an allotted time. A bit like guiding a sperm to the egg, then. Afterwards, the two romanced and no doubt spent piñata retire to their humble abode to perform a special dance, before emerging again to greet the fairy godmother (you still following this?) dropping off the egg. Once hatched, the baby piñata will wander around for a while before cocooning itself into adulthood. Now, you may be asking why this is needed to be done. After all, isn't to piñata of any one species enough? Well, it's down to you. Some may want 20 swans swimming in their pond, or 12 foxes roaming around at night, whereas others will see it as an opportunity to breed them for some extra cash by either selling them off to the village or to other users over Live.

What really makes Viva Pinata stand out is the quality of its visuals. You're on an exotic island, so you can see waterfalls in the distance, forests and valleys as well as the local village. The various objects and items that you can buy for your garden look top notch and most are animated or can be interacted with in some way. However, the praise must be reserved for the wealth of the piñata; these guys and girls looks absolutely sensational, their paper fur fluttering in the wind and reacting to movement beautifully. Rabbits (sorry, bunnycombs) look incredibly cute, as do sparrowmints, with pretztails (foxes) looking incredibly shifty with their pointy, sharp features. Players can zoom in and rotate around each piñata to study every inch of their bodies, and yes, if you're wondering what sort of candy is inside them, you can smack them with your shovel until they burst open. Doing so too often though will frighten that particular species from entering your garden.

The soundtrack and effects are top notch. At night when all the nocturnal piñata come out to play you'll hear owls twit twoo-ing and grasshoppers chirping and in the early morning the fountain can be heard as water crashes down the mountain side. Music is a mixture of rock and classical, the former being the norm during general play with the latter coming in during visits to shops and piñata homes, and it's quite catchy too without becoming annoying or tedious.

At the end of the day, if you're willing to dismiss Viva Pinata on the basis that it looks a bit kiddy, then you're kidding yourself out of a fantastic adventure that has already shaken Rare to its roots, thanks to the departure of two of its three founding members after poor sales of this game. Shame on you, shame on you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/14/07

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