The PC version of Viva Piñata is every bit as enjoyable as the Xbox 360 original, assuming your system is one that it chooses to run on.
- Accessible and fun for players of all ages
- Deceptively deep
- Gorgeous scalable visuals
- 50 varied achievements.
- Games for Windows Live compatibility problems
- Overly limited space for items in garden.
In a world where parties don't happen without piñatas and the candy-filled creatures need to be cultivated or captured rather than constructed, skilled gardeners who have a penchant for papier-mâché wildlife are in great demand. In Rare's Viva Piñata, you have the opportunity to become such a gardener. Although the game is very open-ended and looks like something that only young players would enjoy, its colorful exterior belies a carefully structured and occasionally challenging experience that provides plenty of depth. Yes, Viva Piñata is primarily aimed at the same audience that might enjoy the animated TV show of the same name. However, like hitting things with sticks or eating candy, you're not too old for its appeal just because you can get into PG-13 movies, drive a car, or claim a pension. Arriving on shelves almost a year to the day since Viva Piñata first appeared on the Xbox 360, the PC version is almost indistinguishable from the console game--save for some unfortunate technical issues.
Getting right into those issues, at the time of this writing we're unable to play the game for more than a few seconds at a time without it crashing back to the desktop, and, as evidenced by posts in various forums, we're not alone. The problem halted our progress after around 10 hours, but can purportedly do the same thing at almost any time. This appears to be a compatibility issue similar to that in the PC version of Gears of War, which, not coincidentally, incorporates the same Xbox Live-like "Games for Windows Live" service. Refusing to log in to said service will let you work on your Viva Piñata garden in most cases, but it'll also deprive you of the option to save your progress. These issues don't rob the game of its charm, but they do make the overall experience rather frustrating if you happen to run into them.
Technical problems aside, for those who never had the opportunity to play Viva Piñata on the Xbox 360, your life on Piñata Island begins on a small patch of land that used to belong to a legendary gardener named Jardiniero. It's been neglected for some time, though, and looks more like the beginnings of a desert landfill than a garden that any self-respecting piñata would want to call home. When you arrive, a tearful girl named Leafos, who spends her days lamenting the state of the garden, will guide you through all of Viva Piñata's basic controls and gameplay mechanics. By the time you're done talking to her, you'll be armed with a shovel, a watering can, and a packet of grass seeds with which to get started on your piñata paradise. The game doesn't present you with many specific tasks at any point; your goal is simply to create and maintain a garden that increasingly demanding piñatas will want to make their home. This degree of open-endedness can actually feel a little daunting at first, but you'll quickly realize that your progression through the game is more structured than it first appears.
Viva Piñata can be played using either a mouse and keyboard or a Windows-compatible Xbox 360 controller. Neither setup is complicated, and while the controller is definitely preferable, those of you who are more comfortable with a conventional PC setup should have no problems. The context-sensitive functions performed by each of the controller's four face buttons are displayed on a simple flower-shaped diagram at all times, and if you're playing without a controller you can simply point and click on the flower's petals or use keyboard shortcuts to do the same thing. Viva Piñata's numerous menu screens are also very user-friendly, and also take the form of flowers with an option on each petal.
Within moments of getting started in your garden, you'll begin to attract the attention of wild piñatas. Each of the 70 or so different species in the game has different criteria that you or your garden will need to meet before they'll appear. Once you've sighted a piñata, you'll have to meet further criteria before they'll visit, move into, and ultimately, procreate in your garden. In the early stages of the game, it can seem as if almost everything you do has a positive effect on the local wildlife. But as you level up and gain access to more abilities, more seeds, and better tools, the demands of the wildlife that you'll be trying to get into your garden increase proportionately. For example, you might attract a new low-level piñata simply by growing a vegetable or a certain kind of flower. But to even catch a glimpse of some of the larger, more impressive species, you'll need to dedicate large portions of your garden to their needs. In some cases, you'll even need to ensure that they have plenty of smaller piñatas to feed on. Still more challenging are the evil, sour piñatas that will be attracted to your garden from time to time. These instantly recognizable red-and-black creatures, which invariably have very sharp teeth, do nothing but cause trouble until you figure out a way to keep them out or tame them.
Viva Piñata's learning curve is near-perfect. It does a great job of giving you new abilities over time. It also prevents you from progressing to a point that you and your garden just aren't ready for, which is based on the way that you level up in the game. You'll earn experience points (read: blue flower petals) toward your next level each time you attract or breed a new species of piñata or successfully grow a new kind of plant. There are other, less obvious ways to level up as well. For example, you may discover different color variants of piñata that you already have in your garden by instructing them to eat or otherwise interact with different things. The majority of the piñatas have three different color variants for you to discover, and some will even evolve into entirely different species after eating certain items.
While you're experimenting with telling your piñatas to eat different things, you'll also want to try out different-colored fertilizers on any seedlings that you plant. Early on, you won't need to concern yourself with the art of fertilizing plants. But when space is at a premium later on (there's a limit on how many items--including piñatas and helpers--you can have in your garden), the skilled horticulturalists among you will find that growing one tree capable of bearing 24 fruit is far more efficient than planting two trees capable of only bearing 12 fruit each. Even small, seemingly insignificant plants, such as daisies and buttercups, can be fertilized to produce multiple flowers. Unless you figure out how to make your own fertilizers, you can count on regular trips to the gardening store.
As you progress, you'll gain access to a number of different store owners and other useful characters in the nearby village. You'll be interacting with most of these characters quite frequently. Their services don't come cheap, but the game's chocolate-coin currency should rarely be a cause for concern because every item and piñata in your garden can be sold quickly and easily if needed. Furthermore, certain species of piñata are capable of producing goods for you, including honey, milk, and wool. With the correct accessories from the pet store on the piñatas in question, it's possible to automate these production processes. You'll still need to hire a helper to gather the finished produce, though, if you don't want to bother with collecting and selling all of the items manually.