PC ¦ PlayStation 3 ¦ Xbox 360 ¦ Wii ¦ DS ¦ PSP ¦ Others ¦ DGC Grade Table

Viva Piñata Xbox 360

Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Rare
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £44.99

I doubt many would have had high hopes for Viva Piñata when the game was first announced. Most would simply have dismissed the game as being for children only. This would be a massive mistake to make as it turns out because Viva Piñata is one of the most impressive games I’ve seen this year. The game has that magical appeal about it that means it’s not only a game that appeals to children but also has enough depth to keep adults coming back for more and more. In short it’s the one of Rare’s best games for years and is definitely one of the Xbox 360’s most impressive titles.

Viva Piñata puts you on Piñata Island and charges you with looking after a garden that’s initially in a fairly poor state. To begin with you’ll have to clear away some of the junk and whack the hard, cracked soil in an effort to make the garden more appealing. As soon as you’ve done this your first Piñata will show up to pay your garden a visit. Piñata are essentially animals (made up of sweets of course just like piñatas in the real world) who will only come to your garden when the conditions are right and when you, as a gardener, are experienced enough (yes you do level-up in the game). Of course visiting your garden is one thing but you’ll also have to persuade a piñata to become a resident and eventually to breed (piñatas are neither male nor female you simply need two of them to breed). To persuade a piñata to become a resident you’ll have to meet certain conditions and the same goes for persuading them to breed too. You’ll also have to keep your piñata happy, build homes for them and send for the doctor when they are ill.

Viva Piñata really succeeds because it’s a game that just keeps on giving. It’s structured in such a way that even after playing for over a dozen hours or so, you keep finding new things about the game and keep acquiring tool upgrades and piñata you haven’t seen before. In total there are over 60 different piñata and you’ll really have to work in order to acquire a fair portion of them. To begin with your garden is quite small and you’ll only have access to a few piñata. Your shovel and watering can are quite basic and you won’t have access to many of the game’s features. As you level up you’ll acquire shovel upgrades, be able to purchase a better watering can, hire helpers, acquire a bigger garden, have access to more piñata, earn gardener titles, and be able to cure sour piñatas (nasty red and black piñatas that leave sour sweets behind that can harm your piñatas) and much, much more. There are special fertilizers to use on your plants and some have an amazing effect on certain plants. There’s plenty of scope for experimentation too, particularly as the game doesn’t tell you everything there is to know, allowing you to discover new things on your own. Every one of your actions has an effect though and getting the balance right can be tricky particularly when a new piñata that visits your garden manages to upset the stability that existed for a time. Rarely is this kind of depth seen in a console game and I would whole heartedly recommend the game for anyone looking for a game that rewards your creativity.

Of course younger gamers might not take the game as far as it can go and see everything the game has to offer but that doesn’t matter because right from the beginning the game is very entertaining.  Piñata can be named and accessorized with all kinds of objects which is something children definitely will appreciate. You can use a second controller to play the game in co-operative mode, which is a superb inclusion and allows you to help any younger gamers who might need a guiding hand here and there. That said my three daughters (aged 8, 10 and 11) love the game and haven’t struggled with any aspect of it so far. Small children might not be keen on the idea that certain piñata have to eat each other in order to breed but there’s nothing gory or gruesome here. On being finished off, a piñata will bust into pieces with sweets emerging from their empty shells (the shells simply spin into the air). Even the breeding has been handled in a tasteful way. Once two piñata are ready to breed you’ll have to carry out a mini-game where you control one piñata and have to navigate a path leading to the other one. If you’re successful you’ll see the two piñata boogieing away on the dance floor.

Graphically Viva Piñata is great and if you’ve seen the TV show, you’ll be pleased to see the piñata look pretty much the same in the game. The game is wonderfully colourful and the character and piñata models all look fantastic. There’s some pretty impressive lighting effects on show too and the day and night cycles look fantastic. We played the game on a PC monitor and a standard TV and in both cases the game looked impressive. The frame rate is fine too, although you do have a little stutter when the game autosaves but this is hardly a problem.

Deaf gamers will have no problems with Viva Piñata. All of the dialogue is subtitled. All tutorial information is subtitled too. All of the important information in the game is shown in text. Your journal contains the game’s story (we’ve deliberately not given any details away of the game’s story so as not to spoil anything) amongst other things. In fact the only thing that’s missing in Viva Piñata for deaf gamers is some kind of visual alert for when a sour piñata drops a sour sweet. Hearing gamers will notice a particular sound that plays when this occurs but there is no visual clue to inform deaf gamers of this occurrence. Apart from this, the game is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.

Don’t be fooled by the bright colours and cutesy graphics; Viva Piñata isn’t just for kids. It’s one of the most impressive Xbox 360 titles to date and it has to be our favourite Xbox 360 game of the year (yes we like it even more than the superb Gears of War). There’s so much depth here that you can play for dozens of hours and still see things you had never come across before. We haven’t really scratched the surface of what the game has to offer in this review. Suffice to say this is superb stuff from Rare and we’d dearly love to see a Viva Piñata sequel in years to come.

Overall Game Rating 9.5/10

Deaf Gamers Classification

(Click the letter or here for details)

Viva Piñata is our favourite Xbox 360 game of the year. It's not only entertaining for children but also deep and challenging enough for adults. Definitely Rare's best effort for years and a true classic.