Read on for my review of Viva Pinata for the PC. This is my first properly published piece of work on the web. You can find the link to the piece in all its glory at the end of the review.
Viva Piñata has finally arrived on the PC nearly a year after it was originally released on the Xbox 360. Along with Gears of War, another recent 360 to PC conversion, Viva Piñata has been released under the Games for Windows banner, and also like Gears of War proudly boasts it is part of the Games for Windows LIVE group of games. Involving living Piñata of varying types and colours your job is to manage your garden and become a legend on Piñata Island for your skills as a Piñata gardener.
Gameplay and other assorted bits n bobs
Viva Piñata is, as I have already mentioned a Games for Windows LIVE game. This means that if you want to enjoy the full experience of the game you will need a Games for Windows account. This is a simple procedure, all you will need is an e-mail address and you are off! Viva Piñata is perfectly fine using a ‘Silver’ Games for Windows account, so you don’t need to worry about paying out extra money just to enjoy all the features you normally do. After installing (which for some reason you need two DVD discs to install the game) you find yourself with a ‘consoley’ (yes I just made up a new word in my first review here!) opening screen asking you to click or press Start. Start I hear you ask, on a PC game? Yes this game fully utilizes the Xbox 360 control pad, and that is what I have used to play this game. Bear in mind the classic PC keyboard/mouse combination can still be used, but I found the control pad the easier option. A good thing to mention is that the game has no problems with you switching between using the control pad and the keyboard/mouse on the fly, so if you find you are having trouble using one you can easily switch over, more on the controls later though. So once you have started up you can chose to use your Games for Windows LIVE account or not use one, if you don’t you will miss out on Games for Windows Achievements.
Once you are happy to start your first game you enter into a world like none other that I have witnessed in my years of gaming. Full of bright colours (like the menus) and non-realistic designs you full well know you are in a game designed to be fun. You approach a girl crying and wearing a mask; Leafos. Once you arrive at her side she introduces you to the game and gives some background to what you are on Piñata Island for, to make the garden you have arrived in good again. Looking about you see loads of junk and hard barren land, at this point Leafos provides you with a shovel, one of you main tools of the trade. With this you destroy all the junk and make the ground soft and welcoming. Once this is done you get a seed packet and are able to spread grass around your garden. This triggers the arrival of your first Piñata!
The Piñata’s themselves are, if I may say so myself; cute. Continuing the colourful theme all your Piñata have their own colour patterns and, as you would expect from a Piñata look like living papier-mâché critters. These are the focus of the game and while there is no ultimate ending, they are what you are here to play for. There are over 50 different types of Piñata and each has their own special needs to appear, visit, reside and romance in your garden. These needs and your drive to get bigger better Piñata are what make the game what it is. You can decide what kind of Piñata you want to attract to your garden by making it a swamp like area or a forest filled with trees and plants. If you progress up the ranks in the game Piñata Central will come calling asking for specific Piñata to be sent off to parties around the world, and when they return these Piñata will be much more valuable.
Yes, valuable, there is a currency in the game which is Chocolate Coins, well what else would it be in a game where the critters are made of sweets? You can use Chocolate Coins then you earn by destroying garden junk, completing romance mini-games and by selling things in your garden. These coins can be used to hire other characters (in masks) to come and tend for your garden, build Piñata housing, buy garden items and tools from and to heal sick Piñata.
Looking after everything is very fun, getting the right items or Piñata to be hunted to enable two Piñata to romance is certainly fun, and once you have completed a little maze mini-game to get the Piñata to romance you are treated to a fun, if somewhat eyebrow raising video of the Piñata going through their mating ritual! There is also a wealth of information you can find in the Journal, ranging from an Encyclopaedia giving information on anything and everything that has appeared or been mentioned in your garden to a list of in-game achievements you have received for getting Piñata to visit, reside, romance or change variety in your garden. There is also a log from the previous garden owner which fills in some back story to the game. The Games for Windows Achievements can be earned by fulfilling goals such as growing five plants to maturity to reaching gardener level 50. All these little things add to the sense of achieving and striving for a goal all the time. For players who normally turn their noses up at this type of free-ranging sandbox game the in-game and Games for Windows Achievements certainly provide something to do. They have been very beneficial for me I must say in my aim to get as many Achievements as I can.
As I said earlier I have come back to the controls, everything is easy to do and intuitive, especially with the 360 pad. With the pad everything you need to do is located within easy reach, while using the keyboard/mouse you have to either move about with the mouse to get to the right menu you want or learn the various hotkeys. While there may not be many to learn, it is certainly much easier to use the 360 pad.
I do have some other issues with this game; at times the pacing can be very poor. At points you will be waiting a few minutes for something to do, while at other times five or six things will appear at once requiring your attention. The method the game uses to get your attention is annoying, action bubbles appear in the bottom corner whenever something happens in the garden, these need to be highlighted and removed as they will stay there for quite some time before disappearing. Another issue is that if you do not have a Games for Windows account then you miss out on a good chunk of possible gameplay. While it is always fun to build up a new garden and manage everything, if you require more structure to your game you will feel disappointed.
Really though this game is about fun. You have fun little Piñata which you care for and look after, you get them to mate in some of the most amusing scenes I have ever witnessed and, hell they are Piñata. When they get killed they explode with sweets! This is fun, and while it may have its issues, you keep come back to remember, this is fun.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics and sound are both good, though they have their annoyances. The game design is nice and bright, and quite refreshing from the serious look that seems to have seeped into modern gaming. The Piñata themselves are very cute and have fun animations. However it can be confusing having numerous Piñata of the same type scurrying around your garden and can be annoying to choose one to go somewhere to eat something or do something. The sounds are again fun and feel bright and happy and you can easily relate the noises the Piñata make to who made it. However after a while they can get a bit repetitive.
The lasting appeal of this really does depend on your tastes in gaming. If you really enjoy the open-ended sandbox type of game then you will absolutely love this game. The achievements also add a good amount of playability to it, and if you get involved then you will want to get all the Piñata available and all their different varieties. If you aren’t a fan of this type of game then you may run out of steam after a few hours if the achievements don’t grab your attention.
The 411 on Viva Piñata? It may be coming onto PC a year after the Xbox version, and it may be a bit kiddie and repetitive at times. However it is still great fun provides a great breath of fresh air to the gaming scene and is well worth a play especially if you can find it for a good price around £20 / $39USD.
By Christopher Evans
This review was originally published on 411 Games