Review by Exodist
"A strange, kid-friendly, addictive yet tedious gardening game."
RARE were well known for their N64 days, where they produced so many AA games, titles such as Banjo-Kazooie could rival the likes of Super Mario 64. When Microsoft, the quality of RAREs games definitely went down, however, Viva Pinata is a highly original game, there isn't anything else quite like it out there.
Viva Pinata has no proper story. You start the game, and you're given a patch of land, with a strange lady crying. You're introduced to Leafos, who provides generally helpful information to get you started (later on though, she tells you rumours that are complete lies). You're given your basic tools, such as a Spade, Watering Can, and a Grass Packet, and a basic tutorial. Soon after you're introduced to a host of colourful, yet bizarre characters (Willy Builder? A guy who wears a milk dispenser on his head?). The game doesn't follow a story, however this is a lot of background to it. Progressing through the game unlocks story chapters, although I admit I never read them, and I'm sure most players won't. I think they're based on the TV show Viva Pinata though (to avoid confusion, the TV show is actually based on the game, and was aired around the same time as the game was released, not the other way around). Apart from that, Viva Pinata IS a sandbox game (in essence), it doesn't need a story.
In reality, VP is a gardening game. Your objective is simple, attract the many different species (around 60 or so) of Pinata to your garden, make them happy, and gain money. The game starts off rather slow paced, it introduces you easily. Your first step is to make your garden presentable by turning the hard ground in soil (with your spade), and then planting grass seeds, which grow instantaneously. You're then introduced to your first Pinata, the Whirlm. The game world consists of your garden space, and the Pinata village. To attract Pinata to your garden, you must first meet their "appear" requirements. This simply makes them appear in the area around you garden. You must then meet their "visit" requirements so they actually enter the garden and visit. Then, finally, you must meet their "resident" requirements, for them to actually become a resident in your garden. You can attract Pinata in many different ways, and fortunately there is an in-game encyclopedia to help you, however quite a lot of Pinatas have their requirements hidden. They can range from needing certain Pinatas, items or flowers in your garden for them to appear and visit, to having to eat certain food, Pinatas or flowers to become residence. Another requirement literally depends on how you've made your garden. For example, some Pinatas might only become resident if you have 50% Water in the garden. Other Pinatas will only visit when you reach a certain level, ensuring you're never bombarded by too many Pinata to handle. It can be an incredibly tedious system, yet the game is just so fun and addictive. When you actually get the Pinata, you will want to breed them, or "romance" them as the game calls it. To do this, you must, once again, meet their requirements. For starters, you need at least two of the same Pinata in the garden (gender in this game doesn't apply). You need to meet the requirements for BOTH Pinata every time you want to romance them. Some requirements are simple (such as the Whirlms, who simply require a certain amount of grass in the garden). One thing that every Pinata needs to romance however, is a house of their own, which leads us to Pinata village.
You can access the Pinata village anytime, where you can spend your hard earned Chocolate Cash. Here, there are multiple shops you can visit (you unlock more as you level up, I'll explain this later) where you can many different things. The shop you will use the most is Costolots, the general store. Here you can buy seeds, fertiliser, garden items, and food. You can also sell pretty much everything you own in your own garden, including Pinatas. Other shops including Will Builder, who will build different Pinata houses for you, you can buy accessories for your Pinatas (or Pinatas at general, however you can only buy a select few and these have to be brought). Another, expensive alternative, is to use the Hunter. The hunter will catch any Pinata you have already obtained for you, but it takes time and it's quite expensive. Probably the least used shop is Barts exchange. Here you can pay Bart to exchange your items. For example, Bread can be turned to a Sandwich. This can be very useful but you won't use it very often, purely because not that many Pinata require exchanged items, and there simply aren't many items to exchange. One of the best services however, is the Inn. Here you can hire helpers to help out in your garden. These cost around one thousand coins for the cheapest, however they never seem to leave (well, they didn't for me) and their services are invaluable. They range from harvesters, sprinklers, and watchlings. Unfortunately your garden can be plagued by Ruffians, who simply walk in your garden, filling up ponds, making your Pinata ill, and the leader, Professor Pester, can even kill off any of your Pinata (most likely you're most valuable one). Despite you being able to hire Watchlings, they seemed rather useless. However a few Pinata can scare off the Ruffians, and they're pretty rare. One of the last services is the doctor. Unfortunately Pinata's like to fight, and if they lose, they usually become ill, requiring medicine. If they're not attended to, a strange guy will float toward them, and simply kill them, unless your order the Doctor to heal them (which costs). Although it's not related to the village, when you reach a high enough level you can get challenges. These are randomly set and simply require you to lend the Pinata Party service a few of your Pinatas, for rewards. They're easy since all you have to do is meet the requirements and you're done. Your Pinatas are returned with a higher value, so its always worth doing them. Probably the fastest way to make money is either evolving Pinata, or selling flowers. For example, you can buy Tulips and fertilise them fully for around 60 coins, but sell them for 600 coins when they're fully grown. Around 6 or 8 Pinatas can be evolved. By making them do certain things, they simply evolve, making them worth much more. Money making, like the rest of the game can be tedious, but the game is still incredibly addictive and fun.
As mentioned before, the game features an Experience system. When enough Experience is gained, you unlock more Pinatas and items, essentially allowing you to get more things. The experience system is rather interesting though. Experience is gained for making Pinatas appear, visit and become resident, making Pinatas romance, and becoming a master romancer for them (you need 7 of the same Pinata to be a master romancer, when you have two species of a Pinata no more will visit your garden). You can also gain experience through plants, by planting them, growing them, and fertilising them. Each flower requires it's own fertiliser colour, and if you apply it three times, the flower will grow fully, thus giving you more experience. You can also grow trees which will drop fruits, and these can also be fertilised (the fertiliser must be used at the right time though when growing trees). However, doing these tasks only gets you Experience once. The menus enable you to check every Pinata species, and gives you a checklist to see if you've made them resident, or are a master romancer for them (the same applies to flowers). For example, if you grow a particular flower, you gain EXP for it. However, if you simply grow the same flower again, you don't get EXP for doing that anymore. To gain the most EXP from a flower, you must grow them and fully fertilise them. This means to obtain the highest level you must fertilise and grow EVERY plant, and after that, you can't get more EXP from plants. The same rule applies to Pinatas, except the conditions are different. Again, it can be tedious, but very addictive.
The graphics in Viva Pinata are certainly unique. The game is mainly for children, and as such the Pinatas are bright and colourful, with massive cute eyes and nice accessories. The graphics are varied enough and it's quite pleasing on the eye. On a technical level, the graphics are still very good. The water and weather effects are pretty good and human character models are well detailed. Music is rather simple, and really suits the game. It's hard to describe it, but it just fits, and I certainly enjoyed it.
Viva Pinata is definitely one of a kind (apart from VP2 and the DS version, obviously). There isn't anything else quite like it on the market. Due to the massive amounts of Pinata requirements, experienced gamers who are looking for something else will certainly enjoy it, as will children who are only just getting into gaming. Whilst the game may look childish, don't be fooled, anyone can play this game. If you're after something different, look no further. Viva Pinata is addictive, fun, and strange... It may follow a fairly simple template, but there simply isn't anything else quite like it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/03/08
Game Release: Viva Pinata (EU, 12/01/06)
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