Review by brutusmuktuk

Reviewed: 02/08/08

Gotta Romance 'em All

Viva Pinata works on many levels, borrowing from several popular games, such as The Sims, Animal Crossing, and Pokemon, yet it remains a unique and gratifying experience. It combines the “Gotta catch ‘em all!” mentality of Pokemon, the accessorizing and mini games of Animal Crossing, and the management and God-like control of The Sims. It’s addictive on all levels. Fans of Rare will be glad to know they’re in top form here, their first great game since the Nintendo 64 years. Rare has created a great game for adults and children alike, and one that will suck up hours of your life.

The Good:
+ So many Pinatas to breed
+ Colorful, cute visuals and sound
+ A refreshing break from violent games

The Bad:
— Some of the romance puzzles are too difficult
— Starting out may be too difficult for youngsters

The Ugly:
:( A four-headed snake—the ugliest pinata, by far

Gameplay – 10/10

You start out with a small plot of land with which to create your pinata garden. Pinatas appear, visit, and reside in your garden based on certain conditions. These conditions vary wildly, from your experience level to the plants growing in the garden to the pinatas residing in the garden. Early on, things will be slow. The game’s first pinata to join the garden will be the Whirlm (all pinatas’ names consist of a candy and an animal—try to guess what the Whirlm is). With the Whirlm you learn how to romance pinatas—the basic goal of the game. There’s no true end-game goal, except to master romance (get up to seven of a species of pinata through breeding) each species. You can set up several gardens in order to more easily attract a certain kind of pinatas, like those that need water or those that need long grass. There are all sorts of ways to play, though, and none of them are wrong by any stretch.

The game begins hectically, especially for an inexperienced gamer. You will be juggling tasks and dealing with constant fights breaking out amongst the pinatas. There is so much to do. Seedos, one of the game’s characters, will drop seeds for you to plant when you talk to him. While you’re busy planting flowers and vegetables and fruit trees, pinatas will visit and reside in your garden based on their requirements. For example, the Mousemallow will visit if there’s a turnip in your garden and will reside if it eats the turnip. And while you’re giddy about the cute rodent living in your garden, a Syrupent will come along, eventually, to eat it in order to reside in the garden. You’ll be rushing to control the large influx of pinatas while you are also making sure your plants have enough water and you fulfill some of your pinatas’ romance requirements. Pinatas will come in and reside without your knowledge or consent. They will break out in fights and you will have to spend your precious funds for the doctor to cure the ill pinatas. Things will calm down later on, though. Once you fully realize the rules of the game world, you can more calmly approach and manage it.

You may wonder, at some point, what the purpose of the game is. It has a story, but you can enjoy the game without reading the story. I stated the goal of the game above, master romancing every species of pinata, and some of you will probably agree that it’s a worthy goal, while others will think it’s not enough. Either way, it’s difficult to deny the game is addictive. Besides, romancing pinatas does provide a challenge. Some of the pinatas require tricky, finicky things before they’re ready to romance. One of the easier to romance pinatas is the Sparrowmint, which needs only to eat a Whirlm before it’s ready to romance. After that, though, you only need to feed it a romance candy. This is fortunate because some of the higher level pinatas are quite greedy.

Joining two pinatas that are ready to romance isn’t enough, though. There are mini games called romance mazes that you must get through in order for the romance to be successful. In each maze, you control one of the pinatas and must direct it to the other one. You have a certain number of lives, based on the number of pinatas of that species currently residing in the garden (the more you have, the less lives you have), which you lose if you run into a loather, or a bomb that serves as the maze’s walls. There are also coins to collect, but they’re not worth the trouble. Much of these puzzles, especially for lower level pinatas, are simple. The only goofs you make may be due to the awkward movement of the pinatas. Later on the mazes grow more difficult; loathers move or turn invisible; maze paths grow more complex. The most unfortunate choice on Rare’s part is that some of the later romance mazes seem to require that you hit the loathers in order to open up a path to the goal. This means the maze will be nearly impossible if you don’t romance your pinatas fast enough. You’ll see what I mean.

Sour pinatas visit the garden to make things difficult. They drop sour candies that make your pinatas ill if they eat them. A good whack from your shovel will chase them away, but in order to permanently remove them, you must tame them. Taming is as simple, or sometimes tricky, as having certain requirements in your garden. Once tamed, they become just like the other species of pinata in that you can romance them. They even come with special abilities, like the Bonboon’s peace dance that hypnotizes fighting pinatas. There are also the Ruffians who cannot be defeated or tamed, but can be prevented from entering the garden when you buy a certain item.

One of the major difficulties, and often frustrations, of the game, though, lies in telling the pinatas what to do. Often times you will tell them to go and eat one of their romance requirements and they will either give up on the way to it or all together disregard your command. Some complaints I’ve heard on this matter, though, are highly exaggerated. There is usually a reason that the pinata ignores your commands. Some of the smaller pinatas fear the larger ones, especially those that have to eat them for their romance or resident requirements, so when the larger pinata is near the object you want the smaller pinata to eat, the smaller pinata will not listen in order to avoid the larger one. Or, if a pinata is unhappy or tired it will not listen. A little bit of observation and patience is needed in order to realize why the pinatas aren’t obeying your commands.

Visuals/Sound – 10/10

Much like Katamari Damacy, the visuals are very colorful and very creative. Unlike Katamari Damacy, the visuals are crisp and not at all rough around the edges. Not only do the pinatas look cute and colorful, their personality is shown by how they behave, from the laziness of the Salamango to the vanity of the Swanana to the exuberance of the Macaracoon. The necessity of the romance dance sequences, though, is questionable. They dance the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate, some of them being highly suggestive. More times than not, anyway, they’re obnoxious or bizarre rather than entertaining.

While there isn’t much music, mostly ambient sound, it is often nice, or cute, or funny. Entering the pinata encyclopedia and looking at a pinata page, you see the pinata’s picture and hear the sounds it makes. Some of the sounds are funny, like the Sour Macaracoon, or the Elephanilla, and some of the sounds are very effective, like the Sparrowmint and the Quackberry, two pinatas whose chirps and quacks grabbed my cat’s attention.

Longevity – 10/10

While many people might be put off by the true lack of a goal, there is no doubt many people will attempt to master romance all sixty plus species of pinatas. That is a feat that will take a long, long time, giving this game plenty of longevity—and who’s to say you’ll be done at that point. You can still create a new garden with all of your favorite species of pinata. This game is definitely worth a purchase. Its lack of violence makes it perfect for kids, and its high quality makes it among the best on the current generation of consoles. It’s nice to know that when violent games thrive, Rare will fearlessly create such a game as Viva Pinata.

Score – 10/10

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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

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