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Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise Review

Published September 5, 2008 by |

Viva Piñata is the kind of game that’s very hard to create a worthy sequel for. Partially this is simply down to the sheer quality of the first instalment of the series, but also due to the formulaic and self limiting nature of the gameplay mechanics. Of course, the same can be said of any number of strategy games in the same vein: The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon or Sim City. After all, beneath the cute, childlike exterior; Viva Piñata has always been a surprisingly tight, tactical affair that challenges spatial design and micromanagement like the best of the genre.

This always leant a surreal, paradoxical edge to the original game: Despite it’s family friendly marketing, adorable, child enrapturing visuals and simple presentation, the actual game was, at times, savagely difficult stuff that often stumped older, experienced players-never mind the supposed youth market Microsoft hoped to rope in to it’s web of tv series’, lunchboxes and soft toy ranges. In a strange way it was as if Rare had made the wrong game, and a much better one for it.
Onwards to the inevitable sequel, then. Moving on from the oddly placed original, Rare have made pains to preserve their almost mistakenly acquired fanbase of hardcore horticultural designers while making a huge effort to really expand the accessibility of the game to include a younger audience that may have found the original simply too hard. The main game remains generally unchanged: players must advance through RPG lite levelling up to acquire increasingly extravagant means of developing their garden space to accommodate an ever expanding roster of loveable, papery animals. Fans of the original will know what to expect here, although a sizeable jump in Piñata numbers pushes the number of animals past the one hundred mark- incentive for all but the most stoney hearted cad to investigate such is the quality of character design and animation on display.

The biggest new additions exist outside of this mode, however. Foremost on the list is the addition of Just For Fun Mode. Designed, according to Rare, to allow for younger or inexperienced players to sample and enjoy a simpler game of Viva Piñata, Just For Fun plays like ‘God Mode’ is switched on. Infinite resources and a vastly simplified set of requirements for Piñata to settle and a fully unlocked feature set turns Viva Piñata in to what the original only became very late in to the game- a vast, ridiculous toybox that just begs to be enjoyed with reckless abandon as, expense be damned, players can warp and craft a garden limited only by their imagination rather than the sometimes claustrophobic regimen required to maintain a play space in the main game. It lacks the substance of the main game but it does offer a kind of brilliant freedom that’s hugely enjoyable.

Multiplayer, too, has received something of a shot in the arm- 4 player Live co-op features and plays exactly as you suspect- a host invites 3 friends in to one of their gardens and can select a variety of permission grades to limit any possible vandalism threats from rakes and knaves they may associate themselves with. On a single machine, the dynamic is changed considerably, however. Here, player 2 is, rather than a second player in full, a kind of magic helper whose abilities are powered by doing good deeds in their host’s garden. It’s a clever design choice that was implemented, like just for fun mode, to encourage interaction from younger players, particularly if they want to play with a parent or older sibling.

There are, of course, niggles. One major gripe is that the new environments of sand and ice seem a bit half baked in to the process of the main game. The two dedicated zones outside of your main garden don’t function as new play areas; they’re just empty squares that you can go to in order to capture wild piñatas and take them back. Sadly, once they’re there the means of keeping them happy (sand or snow instead of grass) feels luke warm. Unless the ability to add distinctive furniture sets arises, the game seems to have missed a huge opportunity for creating some of your own playable environments.

In the end, Rare have come up with a very well rounded sequel, despite some concerns. Faults in the original feel remedied for fans of the series, but don’t expect anything new. If you didn’t like the original, there’s no reason you’ll like this more as, fundamentally, this is just more of the same, only better. This is no problem for enthusiasts, and for them the game is hard not to recommend as highly as possible.