- System: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Microsoft
- Genre: Simulation
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Rare’s arrival on Microsoft’s world seemed to force the company to get all their old licenses back, and partially ruin Twycross people’s fantasy by an avalanche of sequels and remakes. From the first day, the new audiences claimed with similar forces both the new and promised Perfect Dark Zero, the a-thousand-times denied Killer Instinct 3 and Jet Force Gemini 2 or the long-time rumoured Banjo Threeie. Sequels after all.
Fortunately there are titles on every videogame system that, no matter his commercial or critical success, are a great hit on the videogame world. The list is really huge. Some of them are widely remembered: DKC, SimCity, Super Mario 64, GoldenEye, God of War II, Psychonauts, Shadow of the Colossus, Conker, Portal... Others simply fall into oblivion for the vast majority of players. But, undoubtly, no one can ignore their ability to get us out of the usual monotony on which this young entertaining universe seems to have fallen lately. The third Rare game for Xbox 360, Viva Piñata, is one of those titles that are a breath of fresh air.
Piñata is based on a not so original idea, which consistes on creating a world where all characters could interact between them. In fact, some people didn’t take much time to tell that the game was like a mixture of Animal Crossing and The Sims, two of the main references on this genre on the last years. However, Piñata had a great advantage, its creators (the team that also developed BK and Ghoulies) "had not preconceived rules of how things should be done, meaning we had the freedom to just create what we wanted to’" as team’s highest responsible, Gregg Mayles, said.
The bases of a wild garden
The base of the whole game is Piñata Island, a wild ecosystem where the gamer has to create a virtual jungle, full of plants and animals with piñata appearance. Using the tools provided by our local guide, the affable Leafos (a girl sporting some kind of African mask), the player begins setting up the ground and choosing the vegetation. This kind of vegetation will condition the kind of piñata animals that can live on our new Eden garden; and this will also open the door to many other species following the logic of the nutritional chain.
Having done that, to start, Leafos will provide us a shovel, a watering can and many seeds. Once the first seeds have sprout, we will be able to invite the first wild piñatas to visit our place. If they like the spot, and find every one of their needs fulfilled, they will change their status from “wild” to “resident” (changing the black and white for vivid colours) and will make of our garden their new home. Our goal is, of course, to create the biggest paradise we can, where the half hundred existing creatures on Isla Piñata can co-exist.
However, life doesn’t rise from nowhere. That’s why piñata’s reproduction is a very important part of our garden’s evolution. However, to make things clearer, piñatas do not practise sex. When two members of the same specie are attracted, they begin their particular courtship dance, which will end with the arrival of new members to the family, being delivered by the stork (literally).
But the player not only chooses his garden's future depending on plants and animals, he can also personalize the creatures up to unsuspectable levels. So, the ones who want to get a deeper game experience will be able to give their own name to every piñata with its own label, and give even more colour to their aspect giving them various kinds of clothes and accessories.
It will be really important to predict each creature’s reaction to the different situations that can came up, and know their routines and vital cycles, as each one will have different activities whether it’s daylight or night due to their characteristics. However, if the player needs some help, he will be able to ask for it to the local guides, sellers or garden workers.
However, as on the Biblical Paradise, evil will also be on our little garden. There is some kind of evil piñatas coloured on an intense red colour, considered “sour”, that will burst in our garden with the worst purposes: causing fights between species, scaring them or even making them go ill. Those sour piñatas are part of the army of the wizard Dastardos, whose name leaves his intentions very clear.
But beware; killing those evil piñatas by using the shovel may not be such a good idea, because if one of them dies on our terrain, its sour content will kill other piñatas that have eaten it, decreasing our garden’s population. However, the malefic creatures have their own kind nemesis, on which they will transform if we do the right actions.
Interaction and challenges
Another great part of the game is the interaction between players using Xbox Live: sending boxes to our friends we will be able to swap piñatas or items. However, it shouldn’t lead to confusion: this is not Pokémon, and the piñatas won’t fight between them. Gregg Mayles talks about this: "Although piñatas can fight in your garden as part of their natural predatory or rivalry behaviour, we felt that forcing your piñatas to fight wasn't in keeping with the nature of the game," explains Mayles. "There are already a number of games where you collect creatures and make them fight, so when you come to Piñata Island things are quite different."
Despite being the title with the biggest 'kiddie' looks ever created by the Twycross guys, it’s not a game for kids as some have inaccurately pointed. Its complex gameplay doesn’t make it an easy game to be played by everyone, and a kid won’t hardly use all the possibilities that Viva Piñata offers.
"Beyond the vibrant colors and charm of the piñatas lurks a deceptively deep game, which has been designed to offer long term challenge in addition to the freedom of a sandbox. The independent nature of the piñatas and their relationships with their fellow garden occupants makes for plenty of strategy, challenge and competition that older players will appreciate. Everyone on the team plays games and we like to make games that we want to play. It would be very difficult for us to make a game that we didn't want to play ourselves." says Mayles about the worrying that certain subjects have about handling any characters that don’t use guns.
Microsoft & 4Kids bet on Piñata
Microsoft has never hidden his plans to make Viva Piñata a worldwide phenomenon as it happened years ago with Pokémon. So they made a deal with 4Kids Entertainment (the ones behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bratz or even Pokémon) so that Rare’s game had its own tv series. This television version of the game shows piñata’s daily life on Piñata Island before they are sent to parties all over the world.
Microsoft itself has also tried to make money out of the franchise producing a port for Windows, and entrusted Krome Studios to develop Viva Piñata Party Animals a mini-games spin off similar to the Mario Party franchise but with doubtable quality. To all this, we have to add dozens of merchandising items. Meanwhile, Rare needed barely a year to bring their creatures to Nintendo’s portable system, the Nintendo DS.
However, despite all these efforts, Viva Piñata sales have been tied to the modest sales that Rare has been used to since they become part of Microsoft Game Studios. Anyway, the Piñata phenomenon seems to be working just fine thanks to the warm welcoming of the game on the specialized media, so probably there are still many piñatas to break.