When Viva Piñata Party Animals (VPPA) was first announced at E3 last year, I was excited about the title, as both my daughter and I were huge fans of the original game. What I didn't pick up on at the time was that it would be a "Party Game" featuring the cast of characters from Piñata Island. When I agreed to review it, I was kinda disappointed to learn it went that route, as Fuzion Frenzy 2 was my last retail party game experience, so I wasn't getting my hopes too high.
First and foremost, this is not your daddy's Viva Piñata (circa 2006) as Krome Studios was brought in to handle the title instead of Rare. Although the cast of characters are the same, they take on their Saturday morning cartoon persona rather than their "lets go do the love dance in the worm house and mass produce worm babies we can sell" persona. It IS a party game, so mini-games du jour is what to expect while competing with Hudson, Fergy, Franklin and Paulie among others. No breeding, no planting and no whacking your piñatas over the head with a shovel here. This is a flat-out dogfight to earn the most candy!
The concept behind Viva Piñata Party Animals is a huge competition on Piñata Island called the Party Animals Championship Challenge. Players get to choose from one of eight piñatas (as seen on Saturday mornings) to represent them in the event. One cool thing I noticed is that the rest of the island inhabitants can be seen hanging around the courses cheering on the competitors, even though they aren't playable characters.
The game can be played with up to four human players, but every challenge will always have four participants (human or AI) and always starts off with an end-to-end foot race before it progresses into the other various mini-games. Local multiplayer will be in split-screen, and the length of the challenge you choose at the beginning determines how many events get played. The control scheme is very straightforward, with the left thumbstick controlling direction and various buttons being utilized in the mini-games to control power ups, swinging of stick or selecting an answer among other things. There are around 40 different mini-games that are broken down into several variations with slightly different look and feel, as well as 12 foot races to choose from (or get randomly generated
The first thing you notice when you get into a challenge is that Piñata Island is simply gorgeous. Whether it is racing around the paths and trails, playing at a fixed location or just checking out the background, the details are actually pretty spectacular. Krome did a fantastic job of not only recreating the island from the original, but bringing it to life through the fast action races and the fixed scene events. The audio track is also done well, although you start hearing the same corny lines being repeated after awhile.
Every competition starts off with a foot race in split-screen mode (locally) against your competition. The races are fun against the AI or other players and give some great visuals. However, the sheer amount and placement of power ups all but guarantee that anyone following the main path will be in it at the end. The key to winning the races is finding and utilizing the shortcuts and then hitting your power ups at critical moments, which could throw off the competition just enough to take the win. The power ups include a beehive that spews honey to slow down your opponents, wings to allow your Piñata to fly and water bombs that splash on the other racers screens, slowing them down while their vision is obscured. Hitting these are critical to winning the races, which in itself is needed to win the overall challenge. A poor showing early on is hard to overcome. The player that accumulates the most candy and bonus candy over the course of all the mini-game and races in the challenge wins.
Prior to each event, there is a screen that pops up displaying the game objective and all the controls for that particular mini-game. These are extremely helpful for adults and kids alike, as the controls generally change from event to event, so a reminder is always nice. Another great feature (in theory) is the ability to turn "leveling" on or off, which should force the computer to stay close to the racers (helping younger kids and newbie's get the hang of things). The only problem is that every single race I was in, the AI took off and never looked back. They weren't waiting for us to catch up, they were racing like crazy to the finish and not worrying about me trying to teach my 6-year old how to control her Piñata. Maybe I misunderstood the functionality or concept, but I'm pretty sure it flat out doesn’t work as advertised.
I spent a lot of time playing VPPA with my 6-year old daughter and my 8-year old nieces. Being as VPPA was touted as a family oriented game, I wanted to see how quickly they were able to pick it up and grasp the controls and what the objective of each mini game was. One of my daughter's favorite mini-games (and oozing with irony) is where you control your Piñata onscreen with the objective being to whack open piñatas hanging from tree branches with a stick until they break. Again, the irony. I observed that they simply had a blast playing the game, even if they struggled with it in parts. Some of the controls and advanced game tactics may have been beyond their scope, but if getting entertained was the primary goal, consider it mission accomplished.
Achievements in Viva Piñata Party Animals are kind of a mixed bag. If you play your way through the game, you will get several hundred points worth as you progress. However, there are some very specific achievements that require specific games, playable characters and reaching (or not reaching) certain goals. For the most part, they are imaginative and fun to try and complete. However, you also get a couple of lame ones such as a free 10 points for entering the classic game code in the start menu. Regardless, this is a much more fun game to achievement whore with than say Fuzion Frenzy 2, as the majority of them are done locally or not through online multiplayer.
Viva Piñata Party Animals was billed at E3 last year as one of the flagship Family Friendly titles that Microsoft would be bringing to the Xbox 360. For the most part, Krome did a good job with the look and feel of the game, utilizing the Viva Piñata characters and island setting. Unfortunately, there are a few issues with some of the features and gameplay as well as the repetitiveness of the mini-games that still hold it back from being a top-notch title. Adults will be ok with it in short bursts, but I imagine kids will play it over and over whenever they are playing with the Xbox 360. It is fun to play, especially with youngsters, and will entertain unless party games are a huge turnoff.
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