IGN Review of Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
In 2006, Microsoft development studio Rare surprised everyone when it delivered the innovative Viva Piñata as an Xbox 360 exclusive. With its colorful critters, surprisingly deep gameplay and near universal appeal, Viva Piñata was a virtual pet game, a complex simulation and a whimsical children's title all wrapped up in one paper-maché package.
Viva was a successful first visit to Piñata Island, but there were a few things fans felt were missing from the original that Rare wanted to address with a follow-up. The result is Viva Piñata : Trouble in Paradise, a sequel of sorts that provides a nearly identical experience to that of its predecessor with a few new features thrown in to make it even better.
Like so many great videogames, the premise of the Viva Piñata series is both simple and ridiculous. You're a gardener given a square plot of ground to shape however you see fit, and your efforts are rewarded by the arrival of colorful piñata animals. Once in motion, this bizarre ecosystem grows in complexity until the loveable Bunnycombs you grew a special patch of carrots for are being hungrily stalked by predatory Pretztails, who break your bunnies open and devour the candy inside. Just like the brutal dog-eat-dog world of real gardening.
Get to know your piñatas' likes and dislikes and you'll soon have a garden full of them to do with as you please. Each piñata has requirements for visiting and taking up residence in your little plot. For example, Squazzils have an eye for hazelnuts, and Doenuts prefer tall grass. As you plant things, decorate your garden and raise piñatas, you'll level up and increase both the size of your garden and the amount of tools and toys at your disposal. Make your piñatas happy and you can get them to "romance," which magically produces a baby piñata if everything goes to plan.
That's the way things worked in Viva Piñata, and it's exactly the same this go-round. There's a more fleshed-out storyline this time (the database of piñatas has been wiped out and it's up to you to restore it), but it's largely in the background. The engine is the same, the helper-characters are the same, and all the original piñatas are back. But with 32 new species to attract and two new areas to explore, there's more to like in Trouble in Paradise. By clicking on signposts at the edges of your main garden, you'll be transported to either the sandy Dessert Desert or the ice-cold Piñarctic, two new environments where many of the new creatures can be found.
Once there, you'll see various critters wandering around ready to be trapped. Choose a trap, buy some bait and watch the poor curious suckers stroll up to check things out. Spring your trap, and if you're lucky you'll soon have a Pengum, Flapyak or Vulchurro to call your very own. And although you can't turn either extreme area into a satellite garden, you can bring elements of both into your main garden. As you gain more experience and level up, you'll gain access to ice and sand and can turn sections of your garden into homes away from home for your captured animals.
As with much of the Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise experience, snaring innocent piñatas and spiriting them away to your personal menagerie feels a bit wrong, but it's addictive and oddly satisfying too. That's because the piñatas in Trouble in Paradise are so damned cute that you just can't help but covet them. Seeing a particularly picky piñata wandering at the edges of your garden, refusing to enter unless you meet its stringent requirements, can be a great motivator to finally get that row of gooseberry bushes planted.
Cuteness was meant to be shared, so this time around you can join with up to three other players over Xbox Live for a cooperative gardening experience. Invite a couple friends into your garden, set permissions for what they can do, and then share the workload as you see fit. You can even send a partner to the desert on a trapping expedition while you work on watering your sunflowers. Trouble in Paradise also supports two-player local co-op, which is a good addition for parents who want to help their youngster tend to their garden.
In the main game mode, evil Sours and Ruffians can make your life miserable until you learn how to control them and minimize their impact on your masterpiece. This, along with Piñata Island's somewhat imposing economy, can put off younger players or more casual gamers. But Trouble in Paradise includes a Just for Fun mode that solves that problem. Blessed with infinite chocolate coins to spend and freedom from Sours and Ruffians, you can sit back and create to your heart's content. Sure, it takes all the challenge out of the game, but it's a nice extra that makes the package even more appealing to gamers of all types.
Although it's an unqualified improvement over the first game, Trouble in Paradise doesn't add anything revolutionary to the Viva Pinata experience. The ability to trap piñatas is a nice addition, but it's really just an extra step in the animal attraction process. There are also some helpful new control options and shortcuts which help streamline your gardening significantly. However, because Trouble in Paradise is running on the same engine as its predecessor with much more content added, things can run a bit slowly at times, even the shortcuts. Bringing up the handy new seed selection menu, controlled with the bumper buttons, can sometimes take a few seconds to load, leaving a list of question marks in place of seeds while you wait. Loading and saving times, as with the first game, are also frustratingly long.
Aside from the new piñatas, the best new feature Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise brings to the table is the cooperative multiplayer, both online and offline. Control freaks might not relish the idea of turning the spade over to another, but I found it to be a helpful feature that allowed me to get more accomplished in less time. While I took care of things in the main garden, I dispatched my online partner to the icy wastes of the Piñarctic to capture rare beasts. I found the local co-op to be less useful, because both players are necessarily confined to the same screen, making it impossible to truly multitask. However, the feature would definitely be useful for teaching another player or helping a young gardener along.
Trouble in Paradise also brings back the gift feature from the original game that allows you to package up piñatas or items and ship them off to your Xbox Live friends. If your buddy's been lusting after an exotic Chewnicorn and you find yourself in the enviable position of being able to breed them by the bushel-full, send him one over Live, and he'll be forever indebted.
Another, less successful, addition to the Viva Piñata universe is the Piñata Vision feature. By holding new collectible cards up to the Xbox Live Vision Camera, you can import piñatas and items (encoded onto the card's surface) into your garden. It's a nice idea in theory, but I found it to be cumbersome and complicated. Not to mention that the card that comes packaged with the game feels cheap and flimsy, unlike the prototype glossy cards Microsoft had shown in the past. I'm assuming that standalone decks of cards will be of better quality, but my initial impression left me feeling like Piñata Vision was more gimmick than fun new feature.
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