Friday, September 19, 2008

Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

Picked up a couple sequels this month. Interesting thing about these two games, is that although they are new retail releases, they are really just incremental upgrades to existing games. But it's not all bad.

The first of these is Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. It's often considered a "cop-out" when reviewing a game, especially a sequel, to say "if you liked X [the first one], you'll like this", but this is one of those cases where it's really true. The game play is virtually identical. You have a garden, you attract piñatas, you satisfy the requirements to make them stay, you satisfy another set of requirements to make them amorous, you romance them by guiding one through a Bezerk-like minigame to the other, you breed more piñatas which attract other species, etc. You can buy decorations for your garden — some can satisfy the aforementioned requirements, some can make your garden safer by keeping pests away — and you have to contend with sour piñatas, weeds, Ruffians, and Professor Pester.

They've streamlined a lot of things, to help with some of the annoyances of the first game. For instance, in the first game, planting a seed involved going to Costalot's store, buying a seed, planting it, then going back to the store to buy fertilizer. Now, there are shortcuts to both buying seeds and fertilizer right off the D-pad. Also, the hyper-annoying problem of simply finding the piñata you wanted (especially if it was a flying type that could be all-but-invisible perched up in a tree) has been greatly mitigated by a quick-find function bound to the bumpers.

Taking a cue from their friends at Bungie, you can now take screenshots in the game that are uploaded to (although the number and duration of that storage is limited). They've also worked in a use for the LIVE Vision Camera. Very similar to the in-game post office that lets you crate up a piñata and send it to someone, you can take a picture and "capture" the piñata in that picture as a card that can be scanned using the camera. It's a little gimmicky, to be sure, but I can't help thinking it's really a way to let kids trade piñatas with each other without having to sign them up for Live Gold accounts.

Speaking of kid-friendly features, there's a "play for fun" option that gives you unlimited money and a fully-functional garden, without interference from Ruffians. I know my 6-year-old is going to appreciate this, as he doesn't have the patience to build up a garden from scratch and just wants to get in and play. Even the regular garden starts a lot more "complete" — you no longer have to spend the first 15 minutes of every garden whacking the hard dirt and clearing out junk before you can start doing what you want.

Other features are nice additions, like local and online co-op and silly little minigames that you can play with your piñatas (although those minigames could really use some instructions — I went through the racing one a dozen times and still have no idea how to use the loathers I picked up, how I won, or why I lost the first eleven times). And thank goodness they finally added bird-proof fencing, so I can grow the weeds that some piñatas need without some sparrowmint swooping in, eating it, and getting sick.

When it comes down to it, though, it's still that same Sims-meets-Pokémon game that first came out two years ago. But I enjoyed it then, and I enjoy it now. And they priced it right at $40.

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