Review by Muk1000

"Those who look past the colorful exterior of Viva Pinata will be rewarded with the sweet gameplay within."

Viva Pinata is, in a word, unique. It incorporates many familiar simulation and animal care aspects, yes. But when I say you unique, I don't mean in terms of gameplay. I mean that this is a complex, deep game marketed almost entirely to an audience that is likely too young to get the most out of the game. It's understandable; the game stars a cast of adorable, cutely named pinata animals. There's a children's TV show that ties into the game. The game takes place in a magical garden. This isn't exactly what you think of when you think of complexity and depth.

The good news is appearances can be deceiving. As the game begins, you'll be introduced to a once-legendary garden that has fallen into miserable disrepair. You're tasked with repairing this trash heap into a bustling pinata paradise. There's a relatively short tutorial on the basics of gardening, including how to clear ground, plant grass, attract pinatas, etc. The NPCs will speak to you as if you are five years old. Do not let this discourage you. The game will introduce you to numerous stat screens and info pages, and things will soon begin to get complex.

For example, to get a pinata into your garden, like, oh, let's say the bee-based Bumblegum, you must first fulfill a set of requirements. This ranges from having a certain type of landscape, to a number of plants, to a specific decoration or feature. You can view these from the Bumblegum's info screen. But hold on; that's to get them in your garden, not to make them residents. You have another set of prerequisites before that Bumblegum makes your garden its home. And finally, once you've lured two of these into your garden, there is yet a third set of requirements to get these pinatas to mate. And trust me, you'll be doing a lot of pinata mating.

Speaking of which, pinata mating has its own maze-based minigame that requires you to navigate through a maze of explosives. Each variety of pinata has its own maze, so if you breed a lot of one type, you'll quickly get good at that particular challenge. As the pinatas go up in value, these get harder. If you succeed, the pinatas dance (no really, you can watch them dance) and that summons the friendly neighborhood stork lady, carrying a little hopping egg to your garden. By breeding and selling high value pinatas, you'll quickly gain the game's currency, chocolate coins, which you can then use to buy various upgrades, items, seeds, and what-have-you from the game's shops.

So all this complexity should have fans of simulations happy, but where's the sense of danger and urgency that many gamers crave? Have no fear; Viva Pinata has its own villains, namely the dark pinatas and the evil Dastardos (who has a compelling backstory for someone with such a silly name). These menaces will periodically enter your garden and attempt to wreak havok, which mainly comes in the form of breaking pinatas. So it's up to you to find ways to repel them, the simplest being to bash those dark pinatas with your shovel until they explode into candy and confetti. Dastardos is trickier, but can be managed as well. And if you want to add to your pinata collection, you can even attempt to turn those evil pinatas into good, upstanding residents of your garden.

I could continue listing aspects of the gameplay, but I think you get the idea. There are a lot of entertaining things to do in Viva Pinata.

With all this varied, and at times hectic, gameplay, it's clear that Viva Pinata is packed with things to do and manage. On the story end, you're looking at a rather simple, almost optional story, mostly told in the form of a storybook that is gradually added to as you play. The characters in the game are likeable, if a bit shallow, minus a few exceptions. The graphics are beautiful, thanks mostly to the unique, cartoon-like art style. The animations are excellent, and your garden is just plain fun to watch, if you can find a free moment to look around. The sound and music are fine; the game is actually quite sparse with the music, but the sound effects are appropriately cartoonish without being over-the-top corny. All of this accents the excellent simulation gameplay, really drawing you into this fantasy world.

Add a helping of well-hidden and rewarding secrets, some of which practically require a guide, and you've got a high quality game that's fun for kids but perhaps even better appreciated by older gamers. There's so much more to say about this game, so much that can happen and can be done, but discovering it all is part of the experience. Suffice to say, Viva Pinata is a magical, detailed, complex game sure to please anyone willing to look over the colorful exterior to the delicious candy within.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/12/08

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

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