Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

What we liked:

+ Additional Piñata and new environments
+ Shortcuts
+ Alternate play modes including Online Co-op

What we didn't like:

- Menus
- Little more than what the first game should have been

DEVELOPER: Rare   |   PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios   |   RELEASE: 09/02/2008

Deliciously fun and addictive for all ages.
Real men play Viva Piñata (and real women pwn them at it). A sugary sweet combination of gardening skills, defensive shovel maneuvers and interactive sim Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is a pleasantly upgraded sequel with as much game play as a paper-maché pony has candy. Unfortunately, everything Trouble in Paradise has to shout about should have been there to begin with.

As a newly minted gardener on Piñata Island players must develop their garden and skills to attract a variety of sweet-inspired Piñatas, each with their own varying value and attributes. In the first game your greatest enemies were time and Sour Piñata, and Trouble in Paradise adds to the meddlesome mix with Professor Pester. The story goes that thanks to the Professor all information about the Piñata has been lost, and he is generally out to be a party pooper and mostly manages to be a constant shovel-whacking annoyance. “Character development” just isn’t on the itinerary, and the hinted at storyline doesn’t interfere much with the day-to-day party supply duties of a Piñata gardener.

The systematic alteration of your garden’s features to attract and breed increasingly valuable Piñata is the only tangible way to advance the game, and this free-form objective may be seem a bit slippery, especially to the younger gaming generation. When you are not leveling up or pursuing the next best in candy storage there is a fair amount of garden puttering to be done. Planting flowers, veggies and trees or just keeping all your collected party favors hopped up on Joy Candy offers enough casual entertainment to while away some time. Level progress is handed out like candy, and there are times when cut scene will follow cut scene. It is enough positive reinforcement for the youngest of Piñata gardeners and more than a little over-the-top for the more progress-oriented adult gamer. There is no escaping my suspicion, though, that the PG film crowd just isn’t going to get a handle on all the game has to offer.

Each Piñata is unique, and Trouble in Paradise brings even more into the mix than the original like Piñata from desert and arctic ecosystems. With the addition of these two new environments come some new surfaces for your garden, namely ice and sand. It may be greedy, but I have to lament that even with these two new environments players are still limited to their home garden. Trapping Piñata and sending them home is a fun addition, but it seems shallow when the potential scope of the game is imagined.

The sights and sounds of the garden are relatively unchanged. Saturated colors, cartoony graphics and the amusing sounds of Piñata chatter are there in all their silly glory, adding to the magic that is Piñata farming. Also a bit magical, the Trick Stick is a new addition to the menu that allows players to teach their Piñata to perform tricks. This is a nice expansion of the game’s pre-existing “secrets” like feeding a bluebell seed to a Bispotti, or the creation of a Twingersnap. The typically tart-tongued assortment of villagers are there to help in all these gardening pursuits, but don’t expect coffee or conversation. The Village-folk are little more than garden mules, there for utilitarian purposes only. On the plus side, you won’t have to beat a garden helper senseless just to get him to take a day off this time around. Also on the list of things that have improved is the ability to break up Piñata spats as the watering can maneuver is far more reliable and shipping and receiving Piñata is available again so you better hope your friend with a Chippopotamus is feeling generous!

The gameplay mechanics are much the same as the first iteration, with a few additional and much-needed shortcuts to items like a seed bag as well as fertilizer. On the downside, the menu still makes me want to murder my Piñata and everyone in the Village. As before, it seems like there are too many kid-friendly safeguards against accidentally selling the farm and just making a purchase at Costolot’s is a maddening series of “continues” and similar confirmations. Speeding things up and streamlining the chocolate-spending process would eliminate the bulk of the game’s headaches.

Breeding – er, romancing – Piñata is very similar to the first game. Still the G version of the Discovery Channel, players must fulfill Piñata Romance Requirements (typically a house and its favorite food) followed by a maze mini-game. The mini-game now includes little hearts that must be collected to win the naughty affections of the target, and also features a Wildcard Bonus that lead to twins or superstar Piñata. Even though the incestuous breeding of Piñata for chocolate or the joyous consumption of candy innards seems like depth best left unplumbed, these additions embrace the already quirky character of the game.

Standard Mode, in which you advance you own garden and progress through Levels, is the core of gameplay. Beyond Standard Mode, Trouble in Paradise includes Just for Fun in which players can create a game with a bank full of chocolate coins and the best in gardening tools, land and landscaping. Ultimately, it is a mode for the gamer disinterested in the easiest leveling ever, and is very casual-friendly. Just so you don’t think you have found the loophole, Just for Fun disables achievements.

Gardens can be played online by opening your garden up to a handful of players or by joining another player’s. Experience is shared in cooperative play, which is great if you are looking to level up. Word of warning, however: if you are a Level 6 and your buddy is at 26 be prepared for an MGS4 worthy string of cut-scenes and a critical weed attack. Two players can play locally (and a local player can join in on an online game), with the players having access to different things. I can only assume that is to make co-op play more “cooperative”, though it seems to function best at creating roaring dissonance. Seeing what other players have managed in their gardens or Piñata they have attracted is a draw for the online play, but in the end the bulk of the fun is controlling the development of your own garden, not bustling about in your friend’s.

Underwhelming when viewed in the context of its predecessor, Trouble In Paradise gets so many things right it cannot be dismissed. Fans of the original Viva Piñata will not want to pass Trouble in Paradise up, and the lower price point eases the sting of the add-on feel of the game. A successful gaming experience for young and old alike, it manages broad appeal without pandering and delivers some of the most fun you can have with a shovel and watering can.

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