Viva Piñata Review
Viva Piñata box art
System: PC, X360 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Climax 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Microsoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov. 6, 2007 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-4 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Violence Can Be Cute

by Nathan Meunier

Piñatas have long been a source of childhood glee. Their appearance at parties is typically associated with free candy and other goodies, yet little thought is often given to what their enjoyment entails. One after another, kids are blindfolded, spun around, and sent forth with a large stick to violently bludgeon and disembowel the colorful hanging animal creations in order to get at their deliciously sweet candy innards.

Viva Piñata screenshot

In reality it's a fun and mostly harmless party game, but the tradition of breaking open piñatas would no doubt take on a significantly more disturbing tone if the treat-filled creatures were in fact alive. Such is the case in Viva Piñata, however, instead of focusing on how the adorable paper animals meet their explosive and untimely end, the game explores their lives in the wild in a charmingly engaging and bizarre open-ended garden management sim.

In this vibrant fantasy world piñatas not only live and breathe, but they actually look forward to being bashed apart. The experience isn't fatal for the critters since they're shipped back to Piñata Central where they can fatten themselves up with treats for more kids to enjoy. If you've ever wondered where piñatas might come from, the game's story offers a fun explanation. The answer is Piñata Island of course: a land full of beautiful gardens and odd inhabitants where wild piñata thrive much like normal creatures. They seek out sources of candy to munch and slowly fill their gullets. Each piñata eagerly anticipates the day when it will be chosen by Piñata Central for shipment to a party where it can be sacrificed to entertain children. The concept may sound a bit off, and there are a few moments where things just get a little weird, but the exuberant production is an all-ages affair.

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As the game gets rolling, players are granted a small plot of land on the island which once belonged to master gardener Jardiniero. He was said to have been able to summon nearly every piñata on the island and grow any plant in his soil. Since his reign as gardener extraordinaire waned, the once-fertile earth has turned to dust and is now littered with debris. With a gimpy shovel and a glimmer of hope, players set off to work the land in hopes of improving their own gardening skills and drawing in all manner of different piñata species. Your shovel is one of several useful tools initially at your disposal for shaping your garden. Digging beneath the dried ground reveals better soil which can be left as is or seeded with nice green grass. Before long, working the parched dirt, ridding the plot of garbage, and cleaning up the property alone will begin to make the site more palatable to some of the first few species of piñata who will likely take up residence there. Eventually you'll be planting and watering seeds, landscaping, installing buildings, and much more.

Viva Piñata screenshot

Tending the garden plot will keep you amply busy, but what makes toiling under the sun in Viva Piñata a blast is the fact practically every bit of work you do has the potential to attract some a new type of piñata to your land. You'll encounter over 60 unique piñatas with cute names such as "Syrupent," "Buzzlegum," "Doenut," "Newtgat," and "Chewnicorn," among other witty combinations. Each species of piñata has a certain set of conditions you're required to meet before it will visit your garden, another set must be met in order to entice them to take residence on your property, and a third set of conditions must be met to get them in the mood to mate. Some conditions are as simple as planting a specific type of flower, growing a tree, or constructing certain structures. In many cases, new piñatas will be drawn to your property by other piñata species currently living there. Changing the land itself, as you increase your gardening abilities and unlock new tools, will also pique the interest of other piñata species. Visitors will appear in gray and white forms, later turning colors when they choose to become permanent residents. A cute cutscene will signal the arrival of a new piñata and also explain what drew them to the garden.

Viva Piñata screenshot

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