Back in the Garden
and Feeling Fine!
The original Viva Piñata had to have been one of the biggest sleeper hits on the Xbox 360. It featured casual-friendly gameplay reminiscent of Animal Crossing. You started off with a pretty sparse garden where a few flowers grew and the terrain was uneven and barely fit for piñata life. Fortunately, with a little hard work and many hours of gameplay, you were able to attract different piñatas, grow new and interesting plants, and make what was once a meager plot of land into a lush piñata utopia.
The original Viva Piñata was such a great success, primarily because the fundamental aspects of the game were exceedingly simple, but the potential for deep and meaningful gameplay was huge. This year’s follow-up, Trouble in Paradise, incorporates this same style of casually appealing gameplaybut adds a ton of new features. The result is a transformation of the already surprisingly deep Viva Piñata experience into one you can really lose yourself in.
Of course, the first thing fans of the original Viva Piñata will be excited about is the new piñata species. Right from the beginning of the tutorial, you will be greeted with new piñatas and new environments. The world of Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise has been greatly expanded and now includes several new regions you can visit. These new areas include a desert-type area and the snowy “Piñarctic.” But, since you can’t actually work on your garden in these areas, you’ll have to set different types of traps in order to catch these Piñatas in there native environments. You can then keep them in storage at the post office in crates until you are ready to put them in your garden. Any piñatas you catch will be introduced into your garden as visitors. So, you’ll still have to fulfill the resident requirements as well as create arctic or desert sub-environments to make your imported piñatas feel more comfortable.
In addition to the bigger world and the new piñatas, there are a lot of other new features that make Trouble in Paradise a more mature Viva Piñata. Chief among these new features is the Just for Fun mode, which creates a lighter Viva Piñata experience suitable for younger or more casual players. In this mode, you’ll be able to attract, catch, and romance the different Piñatas, but there will be no monetary system or sour Piñatas. The result is an unlimited-type mode where it is easy to grow your garden big quickly and experiment with different wildcard species and favorite-food combinations. Since there are no restrictions, you can pretty much go wild here with no consequences whatsoever. Even if you are a Piñata professional, I would recommend creating a Just for Fun garden to tinker with the different piñatas.
Other new features that are very casual-friendly are the new co-op modes. There are two different styles of co-op: local and online. The online co-op mode is a more traditional, full co-op mode, where all the players will have complete functionality, but there’s a catch. The person who set up the garden is able to set permissions for visitors, and can decide what, if anything, the visitors can change. But, if you really trust your Xbox LIVE friends, you can give them complete control and they can do anything that you can while in the garden. Just make sure you have the voice chat option enabled so you can agree on what your friends should change!
However, the local co-op is more limited. It gives the second player unlimited access to tools and items but doesn’t give them free license in the garden. The local co-op feels more suited to a parent-child play experience, which is fine for what it is, but I really wish there was a way for them to incorporate a full co-op experience locally. I realize the split-screen dynamic makes things a bit more challenging, but it’s also unfortunate when friends or siblings have to argue about who gets to be the head gardener and who is relegated to having the number two spot.
One really good thing about the co-op modes is the new mini-games feature. When you are playing co-op, no matter weather it is online or local, you will be able to play little mini-games with your garden’s piñata residents. These games are very simple and generally consist of some sort of race, but they are a great diversion from the gardening aspect of the game and make for some quick fun.
In addition to the online co-op functionality, you are also able to share unique items and piñatas with your friends worldwide. So, if your friend has their eye on a wildcard Bispotti in your garden, you can send it to them if you are so inclined. You can also take pictures of your garden and send them to your Xbox LIVE friends as well.
One of the most interesting new functionalities in Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise has to do with the Xbox LIVE camera functionality. The game comes shipped with a special card with a barcode on it. This card can be scanned through your camera and will unlock special items and piñatas. This system works similarly to the PlayStation 3’s Eye of Judgment, but there doesn’t seem to be much support for it at the present time. The game comes shipped with two cards, and you can download and print some off of Rare’s official Viva Piñata website. But, we’ll have to wait and see how this feature evolves as time goes on.
Although the new features in Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise are very impressive, I have to say that it wasn’t the new features that really drew me back into the garden. It was the deep and creative gameplay style. Because the new Viva Piñata world is greatly expanded, there’s so much more potential gameplay time and, as a result, the experience becomes even more immersive than before. Since there is a wealth of customization options, you can make your garden into the picture-perfect paradise you’ve always dreamt of. The play value in this title is quite large because, like the original, the game never really ends. While an eventual wind-down in the gameplay is expected (once you max out your garden and unlock all the piñatas, there’s not too much else to do), I wouldn’t anticipate reaching that mark until at least 65 hours; and that’s being conservative.
Visually, this game takes most of its style cues from its predecessor, but it still manages to sneak in a few technical upgrades. One thing that is noticeable right away is the improvements in the contrast between day and night. Instead of the nighttime garden going almost completely black and washing out all the bright colors, the nighttime scheme only darkens the environment, and softens the piñatas’ colors. On the whole, the graphics are somewhat sharper and more detailed than the original; these changes aren’t incredibly noticeable right away, primarily because the graphics from the original were so impressive that there weren’t many improvements needed.
The sound in Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is particularly good, and I really enjoyed the classically-inspired score. The relaxing orchestral tunes really provide an excellent catalyst for creativity and definitely help you feel like creating a piñata masterpiece. The different piñatas’ sound effects are also quite good and give the various piñatas a life of their own. Oh, and they are super cute as well. Character voiceovers are pretty good, but in order to give the game a “global” feel, they all have some outrageous accents, which you either love or hate.
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is definitely a worthy successor to the original. While it doesn’t radically change the formula, there are enough new features to keep longtime fans interested and coming back for more. This follow-up really proves that even though a game is perceived as belonging squarely to the casual genre, it can still mature and come into its own as a series that nearly everyone can appreciate. So, if you are a fan of the original Viva Piñata or are interested in casual sim-style games, you owe it to yourself to check this one out! Of course, if you’re like me, then you may find yourself addicted quite quickly, so make sure to clear your schedule!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Bright colors, detailed environments, and super-cute piñatas – what could be better? 4.1 Control
Scrolling controls haven’t really changed since the original and still work fine, although sometimes there are accuracy issues. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Classical-style background music is beautiful to listen to, and piñatas’ sound effects are incredibly cute. 4.9 Play Value
It is really easy to get lost in the Viva Piñata universe yet again, and replay value is almost endless thanks to all the new species, environments, and wildcards that are possible. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.