The Party Crasher
You have just celebrated the best party in the latest years of your life; it probably wasn't the most popular one, but the critics of every guest were simply fabulous. People have enjoyed it as they used to. Yep, of course you had already been the host of other funny events in the past, but you couldn't focus on that kind of things when you moved after your recent break-up. But, hey, after some years out of the spotlight, you have finally got people's attention again, and they have started remembering your name!
Just then... your new fiancée asks you to plan another party. But since you will be working on other amazing events for the coming years, you tell her that it would be better if other guys take care of that one. And then is when the party crasher enters the scene.
Well, that's basically what happened when after the huge critical reception that Rare got with Viva Piñata, they were immediatly asked to do a party game using their new IP. "For Microsoft, the Viva Piñata franchise was always intended to help broaden the Xbox demographic to include the ‘family’ market," told us Steve Brand in a post E3 2007 interview. "The development teams at Rare" were "busy working on other projects" just after the original Piñata game was released, so "when the idea of a party game surfaced, it was decided that the best route would be to approach other developers to handle this for us," Brand explained.
The chosen ones were the guys of Krome Studios, a third party company much larger than Rare, and with experience on nearly the whole range of consoles in the market.
To be fair, Viva Piñata Party Animals is not a horrible game. It is, in fact, better than what the Xbox Live demo anticipated. But it clearly shows the path that a party game should not take. It's that kind of title that at the beginning offers some somehow entertaining minutes of play, before revealing itself as a recycled game for the rest. Much like the promising (and quite disappointing) Eternal Sonata after the first half an hour, the repetitive Assassin's Creed after the first missions, or even the first Halo when you realize that you have been half of the game wandering around clonic corridors and levels.
Viva Piñata Party Animals basically suggests, in a cyclical way, some races after every two or three dull minigames. But neither of them are innovative, nor even interesting. It's obvious that all the party titles have funny minigames, others not so amusing, and sometimes some boring ones if we are not that lucky. The average of the Party Animals proposals falls over the second and the third kind, and the majority of them are variants of others that you have already played.
Also, there's an important difference between a basic minigame and a stupid one. Pressing a single button could sound as the most boring action in the world, but as the amazingly eccentric Wario Ware saga has shown us, this could just turn to be the most fresh and funny thing with only an original idea behind it. Unfortunately, shooting at moving targets, collecting candies falling from above, and smashing a piñata are not only repetitive, but everything except fresh ideas.
And it's a pity that the game doesn't feature other options that could improve the experience: there's a poor AI for the CPU contestants, which can not be adjusted in any way; the lack of some gaming modes rests gameplay value; and not having the chance to replay previously played minigames is unforgivable.
Moreover, there's a problem with the selectable characters. But this is a problem that, for me, have its roots in the approach of the very own Piñata TV series. Why the arrogant Hudson Horstachio was chosen as the protagonist of the show is something that I'll never understand. With a franchise full of memorable species, like the badgesicle, the rashberry, the sweetooth, the profitamole or the lovely galagoogoo, I don't get why we have to deal with a mean horse. If that wasn't enough, the whole range of selectable characters for the game is based upon the main four stars of the show, with their horrible feminine clones instead of one of the originally female piñatas.
In spite of all of it, as I already stated before, Party Animals is not a bad game; it's only a mediocre party title that should have had a longer development cycle, several add ons and a truly willpower to become something different and funny, just as the original Viva Piñata did.
What is the result? The recently born Piñata license has had a poor spin off that can damage the franchise image, and even Rare's reputation if people makes a relation between VP and their original creators. For the future, it's better if Rare remembers that, in order to get things well done, (sometimes) you have to do them yourself.