The pinata, according to Wiki: The piñata is a brightly-coloured paper container filled with sweets and/or toys. It is generally suspended on a rope from a tree branch or ceiling and is used during celebrations. A succession of blindfolded, stick-wielding children try to break the piñata in order to collect the sweets (traditionally fruit, such as sugarcane) and/or toys inside of it. It has been used for hundreds of years to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and Easter.
As usual with Wiki, that's not the full story. Notice, if you will, that there is no mention made of where pinatas actually come from, although there are theories: “There are various other hypotheses as to the origin of the piñata. One version, for example, speculates that the piñata was found in China by Marco Polo and brought to Italy.” Well, I'm here to tell you that that theory is wrong, wrong, wrong. They actually come from a place called Pinata Island. Now, surely at this point you're saying to yourself, “Who is this man that's so wise in the ways of science?” “How dare he disagree with the venerable, all-knowing Wikipedia??” Well, normally I would consider anything from Wiki to be the unvarnished truth (snort!) but in this case, I have proof: it says so right on the box for Microsoft's Viva Pinata, or as I call it (in order to save keystrokes), “Viva.”
If forced to describe Viva in just a few words, I'd have to say that it's a combination of Sim City and Pokemon. An odd combination, I grant you, but one that works surprisingly well. You start out by receiving the deed to an old, decrepit Pinata garden somewhere on the uncharted Pinata Island. This garden was formerly tended by the “most well-known and gifted gardener,” Jardiniero. You wouldn't know it, though, given the deplorable state of the sad looking piece of land you've inherited. Covered with weeds and old junk, it's clearly going to require herculean effort to attract any pinatas to this little square of hardscrabble. Fortunately, there are residents on the island that are willing to help you get up to speed with just what it takes to create and maintain a pinata garden. The first that you'll meet introduces herself as Leafos. She will walk you through the basics of using a shovel to remove hard packed ground and unsightly, space-wasting junk. She will also help you by providing you with directions on how to use your journal, giving you a never-ending pack of grass seed, and a watering can. All of those items will play big roles in the career of a successful pinata gardener.
After just a few minutes of preparing the ground for your garden, your first pinata will arrive. In fact, as you progress through the early stages of the tutorial, new pinatas will arrive faster than you can keep up with them. This is a critical component of a game targeted for the pre-teen set: early efforts are rapidly rewarded and progress is instantly apparent. The progress may even be a little too fast at times, and could be potentially overwhelming. You may find that the new arrivals are coming in so fast that you don't have time to refer to the journal to find out which pinatas do that whole “circle of life” on other pinatas. So, over-crowding can (and will) be a self-correcting problem, if you get my drift, but if your young 'uns aren't quite comfortable with the whole food chain concept, you might want to gloss over that for awhile. Believe me, it won't be the most uncomfortable conversation that can (and will) be triggered by the goings-on in your garden.
Yes, I'm talking about that whole procreation thing. Now, this isn't Sex and the City we're talking about here, but the fact of the matter is that two pinatas of the same variety can (and will) do the “romance dance,” resulting in the arrival of a third pinata. Just be ready for that. It's handled well, and the “romance dance” is cute and clever, and varies with each breed. The most realistic aspect of it is that it requires a little jumping through hoops, so to speak, in that there are mini-games involved in getting pinata A into close proximity with pinata B. It's the Viva version of dinner and a movie, if you will.
The new pinatas arriving in your garden are often attracted by features of your garden. For example, planting carrots will attract a rabbit-like pinata, while digging a pond will bring in a salamander-ish pinata. Success breeds success (so to speak) in that certain pinatas attract other types of pinatas, mostly for feeding purposes. If a visiting pinata likes your garden, it may decide to become a resident as long as certain requirements are met. This again is where the journal is a must-have. It will detail everything that is required for a given pinata to establish residency in your garden, as well as what needs must be met to put the pinatas in a lovin' mood. We'll get into the economics of Pinata Island in a few minutes, but for now it bears mentioning that the journal also acts as a kind of price guide, listing a market price for all items in your garden.
Most pinatas will require some kind of housing before they establish residency, and naturally they expect you to provide it. To provide housing for your pinatas, you will have to hire the services of a character named Willy Builder. For the right price, he will build a custom home for your pinatas. And there's the rub: you need to have currency to hire the builder, and where exactly is that supposed to come from? Well, initially you will find coins laying around as you clean up your garden, and that's enough to get you started. You could even go so far as to call it seed money, because if you do this right, that's exactly what it should be used for.
This is where Viva can get down right educational if you aren't careful. The coins you find in the garden can be used to buy things at Costalot's, the local general store. Amongst the things that can be purchased are various types of seeds. Seeds can then be planted and nurtured to fruition, with the resulting crop then being sold back to Costalot's. So, for example, an enterprising farmer can buy corn for 7 coins per seed, plant it, keep it watered, and then sell the grown corn back to Costalot's for 30 coins an ear. Granted, the farmer will then see that same ear of corn on sale for 100 coins which may seem somewhat unfair to those new to the whole idea of commerce, but hey, ain't capitalism grand? Some pinatas, though, will only become residents of your garden if some minimum number of a certain plant are available, and many of the romance events are also dependent upon each participant having partaken of a given number your crops.
Interestingly, while seed crops can bring in enough coin to achieve moderate success, it turns out that pinata ranching is far more lucrative. The real money is in livestock in the pinata gardening market. Any pinata that is a resident of your garden can be sold to Costalot's for hundreds of coins. Therefore, there is a lot to be gained by achieving a good practical education in pinata husbandry, and as you may have guessed, the journal is the textbook that will teach you what you need to know. Now, as any rancher will tell you, it's all in the breeding. As such, you'll need to pay particular attention to the romancing requirements of the more lucrative pinatas. Be forewarned, however, that many of them are pinatavores. In other words, you will be breeding pinatas as feed for other pinatas. The Circle of Life rears its head again!
Both forms of farming benefit from a stable and predictable economy on Pinata Island. The forces of supply and demand don't seem to have any effect on prices, so you won't be lying awake at night worrying about the price of corn; it's pretty much always the same. Weather conditions also seem to always be favorable, although a good rain can relieve some of the burden of keeping your plants watered. As you achieve higher gardener skill ratings, you may even choose to hire an employee to do that for you. Veterinary care is also available, which is a good thing: between fights, run-ins with pinatavores, the actions of some of the more unsociable pinatas, and the dastardly acts of some of the local villains, your pinatas will require periodic visits from the local veterinarian. He works cheap, though.
Rogue pinatas can be driven away with a few whacks of your shovel, but constant attention is required to make sure that they aren't eating or in other ways abusing your herd. As you become a more successful gardener, this can get difficult. Through time and experience, not only will you have larger numbers of pinatas to take care of, you will also have a larger garden. As things get more spread out and more crowded, it can take a lot of time just to keep a beneficent eye on things. You can help yourself out to some degree by paying attention to the journal and determining which pinatas get along with each other and which may harbor intrinsic distaste for the presence of others. Keeping Kittyfloss (a cat-like Pinata) and Barkbark (a dog-like piñata) in the same garden, for example, virtually guarantees that you will be breaking up fights more regularly than you might want to.
No society would be complete, of course, without a criminal element. On Pinata Island, that takes the form of the evil Ruffians. They are lead by the “evil genius” Professor Pester. The Ruffians come to your garden and take anything they please. What they can't carry, they smash. You know, kind of like nieces and nephews, but not as cute. For the most part, they can be bribed away, but if you aren't into the whole Sopranos protection racket thing, you will just have to live with them until you can afford a more permanent solution. I hear it's pricey, being well north of 10,000 coins, though.
Viva Pinata is a very deep and rich game. This review has touched on only small parts of the overall experience. It seems like it would take weeks of devoted play to learn all of the idiosyncrasies of the world, and to attract even a small majority of the pinatas to visit your garden, much less convince them to establish residency. Viva has both the depth and the ease of entry that truly earns it its “E for Everyone” ESRB rating, and I would highly recommend it for any child over 10 years old, or possibly even a precocious 8 year old. It requires some attention span to really keep the garden from going to pieces, so children younger than that may find it too challenging. Older kids, and adults for that matter, may be drawn more to the economic side of it, although the collecting and raising of exotic species could also be engrossing. Viva's wide open design and game play allow for a strong “to each his own” flavor that permeates the entire experience. In fact, the tag line written by my almost 14 year old daughter really says it all: “Viva Pinata: Filled With Fun.”
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Viva can be great fun for the entire family, but is probably more suited to the pre- to mid-teen age group.