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.
There are several different helpers that you can hire to carry out various tasks in your garden, though they become less useful as you level up and your own skills improve. It's also worth noting that because Viva Piñata is so open-ended, there might be times when you've established a largely self-sufficient garden and don't need to do very much. So there's plenty of time for you to take care of some of the more menial tasks before pushing forward.
The most unfortunate aspect of Viva Piñata occurs when you sight a new piñata species and decide that you'd like to attract it into your garden, because it often means undoing a lot of the work that you've put in previously. For example, our own garden started out as a carefully planned and quite formal affair, but it evolved (or devolved, perhaps) into something that resembled a swamp. This change occurred because we attempted to entice some piñatas that demanded large expanses of water. Later, when we were dealing with piñatas that resembled bears, elephants, lions, birds of prey, and the like, we had devoted so much of our garden to water that it became problematic. We were then forced to fill in much of what had become a nicely landscaped pond. It's possible to play multiple gardens while using the same player profile that is complete with its own chocolate bank account and experience. But because the aforementioned item limit applies to all of your gardens rather than each one individually, this doesn't really help matters much.
Your in-game journal does a great job of tracking and arranging all of your accomplishments, which makes it an easy resource to refer back to if needed. The journal also contains a detailed instruction manual and a storyline of sorts, which is presented through a series of unlockable journal entries. Like all of the other menu-driven areas of the game, the journal is presented as a series of easy-to-navigate flowers with options on different petals.
If you're a fan of achievement points, you'll find that the journal is a great way to keep track of how close you are to completing some of the point-scoring objectives. You'll likely earn many of the game's 50 achievements (many of which are simply described as "secret" until you unlock them) simply by playing as you would normally. However, there are definitely a few that you'll have to go out of your way to get. The same can be said of the optional "Piñata Central" challenges that crop up from time to time. Their premise is that you need to supply specific piñatas for use at upcoming parties. These challenges don't award experience points upon completion, but the value of the piñatas that you send will have increased when they're returned. They'll also bring back some candy with them that increases the happiness of any piñata eating it.
The crates that you use to ship off your piñatas to Piñata Central are the same ones that you can use to take advantage of the game's only online functionality, which is sending gifts from your garden to other players on your friends list. Of course, not everything that you send has to be nice. But you should know that when you receive mail, there are options to simply return to sender or forward on to another player. So habitually mailing out your problems isn't really an option. Sending valuable piñatas and other items is a great way to let your friends know when you're doing well. Even if they're further along than you, the game's open-endedness means there's a chance that the item you're sending could be something they haven't seen before.
This is not to suggest that Viva Piñata boasts a vast number of customizable items or anything. However, piñatas with variant colors (a blue fox or a pink duck, for example) are a good example of the kind of thing that you could send to a friend and reasonably expect to get a message back from him or her a few minutes later asking how you came by it. Piñatas that are born in your garden each wear your own customized label, much like you'd find on a teddy bear or some other stuffed animal. That label information stays with the piñata regardless of how many times it moves around to other gardens. If you zoom in close enough during the course of regular gameplay, you can make it out quite clearly.
The attention to detail in Viva Piñata's visuals is uniformly impressive, and you'll rarely find an object in the game that doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. The unique visual style of the game is likely something that you've already decided to love or hate. But regardless of your personal taste, there's no disputing the fact that the visuals are cohesive and impressive technically. The great animation in the game is what gives many of the piñatas their personalities, even more so than their distinctive appearances. The species-specific "romance dances" are especially fun, though you'll get to see each of them only once. Procreation can be a quite complex affair for piñatas, incidentally, because the romance dance can occur only after you've satisfied a number of prerequisites and beaten the species' unique mazelike minigame.
Even a year after its Xbox 360 release, Viva Piñata is a great- and unique-looking game. The game's colorful, bold style ensures that it holds up well even when played at lower 4:3 resolutions, but it goes without saying that the visuals improve significantly at higher resolutions. Widescreen displays are supported, and even a relatively modest system should have no problem keeping the game running at 30 frames per second provided your visual settings are realistic. For the most part, the gameplay is silky smooth and hiccups only briefly when the autosave kicks in once every few minutes or so.
Your ears are also in for something of a treat when you play Viva Piñata. Some of the animal sounds and character voices can become grating after extended play. But for the most part, the game's ambient sounds are really great. The game also boasts an accomplished, somewhat understated musical score, which gives way to much more brash noises briefly whenever a garden-wrecking ruffian or sour piñata finds its way into your garden.
It's unfortunate that Viva Piñata does seem to suffer from the reliability and login issues we encountered, but it's otherwise a game that is difficult to dislike. It oozes charm and personality from its every papier-mâché-covered pore. While it's accessible enough for those with very little gaming experience (and their children), it also has enough depth to keep anyone with a Pokémon-style "gotta catch 'em all" mentality--or perhaps a penchant for gardening--entertained for many hours.