I know I had written about how I was planning on writing about something other than games on my next post, or next few posts, but Viva Piņata made me break that little promise when this afternoon, in a slow day at work, I decided to finally write down my review for it. It was not an easy task, because aside from Animal Crossing, I had never written a review for a game that was this open-ended, so I am not sure about the result, but here it is. On my next blog, I will try to write about a different subject. Meanwhile, read it if you feel like it, look at the pictures if you don't and comment on the game if you have something to say.
A very colorful and beautiful kind of sandbox, and a true delight to both mind and soul
Warning! Big review approaching!
Winning and losing is part of what makes games so blindingly exciting. Dealing with the constant threat of failure, and the looming possibility that any slip up will force players to start a stage from scratch, keeps us on our toes and, by nurturing to our competitive instincts, manages to engage us for endless hours. However, somebody somewhere discovered that in the midst of fierce competition, an unfulfilled necessity of relaxation was born, and that sometimes simply building and creating, without the concepts of victory or failure, can be as appealing as a more traditional gaming experience. Games like Sim City, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Minecraft, Animal Crossing and The Sims came to life to address those needs, and Viva Piņata is, while far cuter than any of those titles, their rightful peer in quality. Like those titles, it feels like a welcome needed vacation from the world of winning or losing; living or dying.
In Viva Piņata players are put in charge of an abandoned garden that needs to be brought back to life. Things start pretty easy, as the new gardeners have to do away with the trash that is clogging the place, before planting green patches of soft grass in order attract the curious creatures that give the game its title. By the time the garden reaches its peak in population and crops, though, players will be completely busy, having to handle a vast array of different duties in order to keep things going orderly. Still, despite the hidden complexity, Viva Piņata differs from most open-ended games in the fact that it can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone out there, regardless of age and previous gaming experience. That quality, though, is not solely created by the game's colorful visuals. It is, instead, made possible by the fact that a garden will flourish with life even if it is handled by an unskilled player. Sure, the difference between an awe-inspiring piece of land and one handled by a toddler will be evident, but while a game like Sim City loses its appeal when the city fails to get into a good financial rhythm, Viva Piņata remains rather amusing even if the garden does not fully prosper.
In addition, Viva Piņata can be either enjoyed in short bursts or long continuous stretches of gameplay. While the former is a natural characteristic of the genre, the latter is achieved by giving players a constant stream of duties to perform. As small as your garden may be when things get started, there will always be a new Piņata visiting, a new seed to plant or a curious behavior to be observed in your garden. The title's main allure, obviously, are the creatively designed Piņatas that inhabit its world. There are sixty species total, and anyone with a heart will feel automatically compelled to try to attract them all into their garden and, as shallow as it may sound, the main reasons for players to feel compelled to do so is how adorable they look, which leads to a very intense curiosity towards seeing and watching the little beings that the folks back at Rare were able to create. The task, though, is far from being simple; and before reaching the possible goal of interacting with all Piņatas in the game, chances are players will have spent many dozen hours engaged in their gardening.
Attracting Piņatas requires certain items to be fulfilled. Some goals are as simple as planting a certain vegetable, but other rare beings have objectives that branch into far more complicated requirements, like having a certain Piņata in your garden, or allowing that wild Piņata to eat one or two of your beloved creatures. After a Piņata has finally chosen your place as their residence, it is possible to build them a nice-looking house, attract another Piņata of the very same species and fulfill another set of goals that will make that couple fall in love, hence starting a breeding process. As you can see, Viva Piņata is built in vicious cycle where achieving a goal leads into even more goals to be conquered, and that smart background structure is absolutely addicting, because the more Piņatas players have wandering around their garden, the more new Piņatas they will feel like attracting, and each new Piņata that appears brings along a series of tasks that will start by making that species a new resident and culminate with breeding. It manages to bring the same irrational need that the Pokémon series have its fans; it is hard to tell why exactly you want to keep drawing Piņatas, but you certainly know you want to.
The game's core draw might be the Piņatas, but as a title that looks wonderfully good and gives players a certain amount of control over the landscape on which they play, Viva Piņata naturally compels everybody into making their garden as beautiful as possible. Players can manage certain elements of the paysage at will, like choosing where to create lakes and rivers or plant tall or low grass, but it is also possible to plant trees, flowers, vegetables or bushes to make your slice of land look like true paradise. Some players will only look at those items like sources of income for their garden, since everything from the Piņatas themselves to the bloomed flowers can be sold to make some money, but it is hard not to be at least inclined to try to pick the best location possible to plant an apple tree or some sunflowers so that your garden can look as nice as possible. Besides, there are also decorative items for sale in some of the game's stores, so players can truly get creative in the beautification of their gardens.
As peaceful as Viva Piņata might feel to those who play it, the game still manages to offer great a degree of challenge. If attracting some of the rarer animals is by no means an easy task, so is planting any kind of tree or crop. Not only do they require to be watered constantly and in proper doses, some trees will only produce as many fruits as possible if fertilized by the correct product at the correct time, and discovering when exactly is that moment and product is up to players in their constant experience as gardeners. All gardens also level up as time goes by, experience points are acquired by managing to grow new crops or getting new achievements related to the Piņatas - such as making them breed or discovering a new color variety - and as the garden levels up, its area will expand so that players can plant even more and house a bigger quantity of Piņatas; and new more efficient tools, items and crops will become available for purchase.
It is worth noting that, as good as it is, the game is not without its minor annoyances. The first one comes in the shape of the breeding mini-games that take place whenever players successfully mate two Piņatas. The mini-game consists of carrying one Piņata to its partner through an enemy filled maze by clicking on the screen with the mouse to lead the creature's movement. The mini-games are interesting at first, but by the time you are breeding the same species for the third time it will become extremely bothersome to perform the same bland mini-game over and over again. Plus, some gamers, especially those who are overprotective of their own creations, will find it awfully annoying that, from time to time, a Piņata might be torn apart in an explosion of candy by either a wild "sour" Piņata or even one of your own creatures, since - as it is to be expected - Piņatas themselves have a food chain. While it is a natural part of the gameplay, it can be a little frustrating to helplessly watch as a hard-to-attract being you fought so hard to get is eaten by creature that suddenly walked into your garden. Thankfully, after a Piņata makes residence, it is possible to buy a new creature from that same species from a hunter in one of the game's many stores.
Overall, Viva Piņata is certainly a very unique open-ended game. It has a charm of its own, and there is a lot of pleasure to be found here, either by finding a new species that you become especially found of, or by looking at your carefully taken care of garden and watching as the different species you have manage to gather interact with one another and sit by and relax in the beautiful landscapes. It is an absolute pleasure to both spirit and mind, and in an area of entertainment where we are always so worried about results, points, victory and success, it is very pleasant to, occasionally, just sit around and have fun with a game that allows you to, once more, feel like a kid that is simply having fun with a very colorful and beautiful kind of sandbox.