Ever since its release back in 2005, critics have complained that the Xbox 360's video game line-up has been somewhat one-sided. With an emphasis on action, first-person shooters and online fare, Microsoft's next-generation console has been a favorite amongst hardcore gamers. But what about everybody else? With so many violent games with mature themes one has to wonder what is left to appeal to casual gamers, to those people who aren't as excited about Gears of War or Dead Rising. For those people I give you Viva Piñata, one of the brightest, happiest, most endearing games on the Microsoft console.
Viva Piñata is more than just a great diversion from multiplayer shooting, it's one of the best games released for Microsoft's one year old system. It's cute enough for anybody to get into (no matter what your age), but deep enough to keep even the most hardcore gamers interested for at least a dozen hours. It may not look like the kind of game you would normally play (and the ultra adorable box art isn't helping matters much), but there's something about Viva Piñata that will thrill and amaze.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised how Viva Piñata turned out; after all it is developed by some of the best video game designers in the business. With games like GoldenEye 007 and Battletoads under their belt, Rare has a long history of making great games. But with games like Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Kameo, it's easy to see why fans of the company have been somewhat disappointed by Rare's recent releases. But fear not, because Viva Piñata brings Rare back to its former glory. It's an innovative game that is difficult to pigeonhole and impossible to put down.
At first glance it's easy to want to compare Viva Piñata to Nintendo's Animal Crossing series. But upon further inspection you'll find that this game has very little to do with digging up NES games and talking with Tom Nook. Instead this game feels like a cross between The Sims and Harvest Moon, it's a game where all you do is tend to your garden and try to attract as many different kinds of piñatas as possible. Its premise may be simple, but actually accomplishing your goals can be anything but.
Viva Piñata starts you out with a small plot of land that is full of rough terrain and ugly debris (logs, a broken down cart, etc.). Your first task is to use your shovel and pound that area down so that you can start planting grass, flowers, trees and other foliage. Once you've made your garden attractive various animal-inspired piñatas will start to populate your area. At first it may be nothing more than worms and birds, but stick with it long enough and you'll be entertained by papier-mâché monkeys, unicorns and frogs.
There are more than sixty different piñatas to have fun with, but if you're going to see them all then you're going to need to spend a lot of time making your garden just right. All of the different species require you to meet certain requirements before they'll call your garden home. For example, if you want to get frogs and newts then you will need a certain amount of water area in your garden, pigs and bunnies need certain types of flowers, some animals need to eat fruits and vegetables, and so on so forth. Meeting all of these requirements is just part of the fun of Viva Piñata.
Once you've managed to attract some animals it's time to breed them, which requires you to meet even more conditions and then figure out a way of getting them to mate. The mating ritual is one of the most unique parts of the game, it involves you playing a small (and often simple) mini game and then watching your two creatures go to their respective house and get it on (in something they call a "romance dance"). There is nothing cuter than watching a couple of animals (no matter if it's a pig, monkey, snake or butterfly) get it on with a dance. It's a great introduction to porn for all of the little kids who play this game.
But attracting piñatas and mating them is only half of the job, you will also need to keep them happy, keep them safe, and keep them healthy. You see, this wouldn't be much of a game if it didn't have some conflict … and this game is ripe with crazy events working against your progress. As you progress through the game you will have to deal with sour piñatas that want to spread illness, a gang of ugly masked men who like to come in and destroy your buildings, and various species that just don't get along. All of this is going on while you are trying to grow new trees, plant new flowers and complete other tasks. While it may look sweet and innocent, there's something about Viva Piñata that is frantic and stressful.
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