Viva Pinata

Review

posted 11/30/2007 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
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.
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