Rare's Viva Piñata, a series now four games deep thanks to two spin-offs, has always seemed like an odd fit for the Xbox 360 crowd. A property that seems squarely targeted at kids, "kidults" and Rare die-hards — oh, and the subject of merchandising opportunities — seems to have a "love it or hate it" appeal, as the gathering of brightly coloured papercraft beasts accomplished by smart horticulture might be kind of a hard thing to wrap one's brain around. The sequel, Viva Piñata: Trouble In Paradise, likely won't do much to change minds, as it sticks close to the gameplay of the first, while giving hardcore fans of piñata herding more of what they love.
Can a gamer who wasn't a fan of the first find something to love in Viva Piñata: Trouble In Paradise? We gathered up some love and hate to find out.
Piñatas Are Cute(!): Even ornery old curmudgeons like myself can't help but be won over by little bobbling Sweetles and prancing Mousemallows. Spotting new creatures may wear on one's patience, as the intro sequence can't be skipped, but your garden's inhabitants may induce cute overload. Superficial, yes, but the adorable art style of the game's piñatas is hard to hate, even by the hardest of men.
Strong Visuals: However you may feel about Rare's aesthetic, it's hard to argue that Viva Piñata: Trouble In Paradise looks stunning in motion. There may be the odd level-of-detail pop-in and some frame rate sluggishness, but graphically the game is spectacular. The paper inhabitants feels more alive thanks to Rare's attention to detail and technical prowess.
Incredible Depth: There's an amazing amount of virtual stuff to collect, challenges to complete and ways to modify your garden. Mating mini-games are surprisingly fun. Two new environments, Dessert Desert and the Pinarctic, add a dash of variety and dozens of new species to horde, even if they don't bring much in the way of thrilling new gameplay.
Excellent Pacing: Despite a rough start, in which I didn't know what the hell my objectives often were or how to get them done, the game ramps up the difficulty relatively well. You may feel overwhelmed at times, as you juggle multiple objectives, watching your piñatas be picked off and as parts of your garden go to pot, but it's unlikely that you'll become bored with building out your garden.
Disarmingly Addictive: Gardening games, pet sims, god control — not exactly my thing. But time can fly by in Viva Piñata as the constant growth and encyclopedia additions, as well as the improved auto-saving, will make time fly by. Even when I had convinced myself that I was ready to give up, the game somehow managed to keep me absorbed for another hour.
It's Viva Piñata: To be honest, I wasn't a fan of the first Viva Piñata and, following the completion of this review, it's likely I'll never play Viva Piñata: Trouble In Paradise ever again. If you weren't fond of the first, it's likely you won't be fond of the second. The game feels, on many levels, like a redux release that does little to mix-up the gameplay, instead opting to streamline it and expand the piñata bestiary. The budget-y release price tag helps alleviate the feeling of been there, done that.
Hideous Humans: Inasmuch as the piñatas in the game are adorable, the humanoid characters are disturbing, creepy and annoying. Grating voice work compounds the hate.
Random Overcomplexity: Whether it's confusing interface choices or too many button presses to get done what needs to be done, Trouble In Paradise can frustrate with some of its control design decisions. The game has some welcome control revisions, but we sometimes felt lost in the UI.
I'm about to commit my least favourite review cop out — If you liked the first Viva Piñata for the Xbox 360, you will like the second even more. If you didn't like the first Viva Piñata for the Xbox 360, you're more than likely going to feel the same way about Trouble In Paradise. Some people get it and absolutely adore it, but I'm not one of those people. I couldn't stand Pikmin, for example, a title that I find similarly puzzling in its appeal. That doesn't mean that Rare has made a bad game by any means, just that its appeal continues to be selective.
Those who did appreciate the first will likely be thrilled by the addition of online multiplayer and local coop, even if the former is more successful than the latter in its implementation. An expanded roster, a "Fun For All" mode and better Live integration will probably bring you back, but if you never jumped in in the first place, we'd suggest a rental.
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, developed by Rare and published by Microsoft was released on Sept. 2 for the Xbox 360. Retails for $39.99. Focused on main campaign over the course of twelve hours, tested coop modes and Xbox Live online play.
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