Many a seasoned gamer looks at the company Rare with a degree of pity & sadness…the creator of such stellar titles & franchises has been reduced to rehashing their titles & Kinect games for the X-Box 360.
For many Rare hasn’t made a great game since the N64 boom but these people are over-looking one of Rare’s finest titles to date…Viva Piñata.
Appearing like nothing more than a kid’s game but actually having a huge amount of depth; Viva Piñata is both fun & challenging with minor control frustrations that can be over-looked.
The premise is simple…you are a gardener given a garden & tasked with tidying it up & making it liveable for nearby Piñatas. The Piñatas are basically animals that need reasons to enter your garden & make themselves resident. It is your job to attract them…
The early Piñatas need little more than a grassy garden or the odd flower with the later ones needing fully grown tress & certain expensive foods. It’s an interesting challenge that constantly excites as something you previously had not thought of doing brings in another Piñata that had been wandering outside your garden for ages.
You see you operate from a 1st person perspective controlling a cursor that cannot go beyond the boundaries of your garden. If something is wandering around outside your boundaries you won’t be able to click on it & see its information until it steps within your area. As you level up your garden will increase in size as well as many more items from the shops be made available.
Money comes in the chocolate coin variety & is mostly made by the selling of Piñatas. The number of Piñatas that you can have in your garden is limited so selling your excess is important to generate funds to buy items to attract newer ones. Once you have 2 of 1 Piñata no more of that one will come to your garden. Instead you will be required to romance the 2. Like attracting & making resident the requirement for making the Piñata want to romance will take a specific task (often eating a certain flower).
Once the task has been complete the Piñata in question will have a heart above its head. When both have the heart above their heads you can get them to interact & a mini-game will ensue. This game sees you controlling 1 Piñata through a dangerous maze of bombs with the aim to get to the other Piñata who is waiting for you at the end. Depending on the rarity of the Piñata depends on the difficulty of the maze as well as the number of lives you have (hitting bombs loses a life) depends on the number of Piñatas you have in that race.
You can only have 7 Piñatas of the same race before you are granted the title of master romancer for them. It’s tasks like this that will level you up & the more you level up the more upgrades become available. Your main tools are the watering can & the shovels…the watering can will cost you money but the shovel upgrades by your level. It’s the most important tool in the game as it is used to flatten rough surfaces, dig pools, fill in pools, chop long grass, destroy objects & hit Piñatas.
This last one is super important as many of your Piñatas will get into fights with the loser taking ill & requiring a doctor which costs money. Keeping them under control is a matter of balancing which Piñatas you have with in your garden & segregating them as necessary.
Fighting Piñatas are not the only issue though…
The more your garden fills up the more interest nasty Piñatas (Sour) will show in it. They will come into your garden, upset your resident Piñatas & spit out poison sweets that will make your Piñatas sick. Destroying them is temporary & they will return within the next few days. To combat them you can either attempt to tame them or pay for the ‘tower of sour’ which is basically a totem that keeps the sour Piñatas away.
This solution doesn’t work for Ruffians who run about causing a bit of chaos until you earn an upgraded shovel. Led by the nasty Professor Pester the Ruffians will randomly come into your garden, fight with your Piñatas, fill in your ponds, smash your fences & leave gates open. Watch out for Dastordos when you’ve got a sick Piñata as well as you will come into your garden & smash the sick Piñata.
They are hugely frustrating but as there is normally ample time to deal with Ruffians before they cause trouble & more than enough time to cure sick Piñatas so you can only blame yourself if they get their way in your garden.
Ultimately the real challenge comes from trying to reach the highest level (50), attracting all of the Piñatas (of which there are a lot), making variants of Piñatas, maintaining your garden, growing your plants & trees to maturity & working on challenges set by Piñata Central (pretty much providing them with a certain Piñata when requested for a short amount of time).
It’s a lot fun & at times very challenging….
However the game is hurt by the limitations of your garden & at times it feels like the game is forcing you to sell Piñatas you would much rather keep just to make room for others. The same applies to the amount of objects you can have in your garden. Fences, statues, torches, plants, trees & many other objects all add to a very limited amount & realising you’ve reached this limit (with no indicator) just as your halfway through building a fenced off area is hugely frustrating.
This brings me to the game’s biggest fault…the controls…
The controls are extremely frustrating with a severe lack of camera controls limiting your zoom & an over-responsive tilt & turn. Doing any task requires far too many clicks & buying things from shops involves far too many screens just to get to some fertiliser. Clicking on a Piñata isn’t enough to task them with something, that requires a double click then the cursor moved to wherever needed. This all sounds minor but when you are trying to do something quickly it can really frustrate especially when trying to do multiple things.
It’s something the company recognised & improved in the sequel.
Untimely though the controls & limitations are not enough to spoil an excellent game where the hours will fly by as you tend to your wacky & wonderful Piñatas. The sense of joy as you convert a once hostile Piñata into a happy resident is un-matched & any failings often fell like your own fault rather than the games. That a level 50/50 hour played achievement doesn’t feel daunting at all is testament to the games longevity as each level reveals even more Piñatas & tools to work with as well as more challenging enemies.
I adore this game & the only reason I don’t give it 10/10 is because of the controls.