Name: Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise
Platform: Xbox 360
I always feel the need to get a little defensive when I talk about my love for the Viva Piñata series. It’s easy for those who haven’t played the game to just look at the box, see the bright, smiling, adorable animals, and dismiss it as child’s fare or an Animal Crossing rip-off. I know, because I did the same thing when the first game originally came out. However, I later discovered that not only did Viva Piñata not fall into the same “kids only” demographic that the cartoon of the same name does, but that it was a fun, silly, replayable, well-made, and surprisingly addictive game that could offer hours upon hours of enjoyment to any gamer who would give it a chance. Trouble in Paradise, the second game in the series, not only shares all of these qualities, but adds more than enough content to keep both newcomers and series veterans occupied.
There are many things to do in Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, just like in the first one. The early hours will be spent attracting low-level piñatas and growing basic plants, and as you level up, more and more will become available to you. Over time, the size of your garden grows and you are given more tools, and you will see more piñatas appearing out of the wild, trying to figure out if your garden is right for them. The system of leveling up is exactly the same as it was in the first game, right down to the flower petals ticking off your experience on-screen as you desperately try to attract, mate, and evolve more and more species of piñatas.
The biggest addition to the game is the inclusion of two new environments, the Dessert Desert and the Piñarctic. As their names imply, these are desert and arctic regions, and you can go there to trap native piñatas in order to bring them back to your garden and attempt to turn them into residents. In addition to being able to visit these areas, you now have access not only to grass, but sand and snow as well, so you can create your own warm and cold climates for piñatas indigenous to those locales. Since you are allowed to create and maintain up to eight gardens and can transfer piñatas from one to another, this gives the player so much more to do. Bored with your plain green garden? Create a desert oasis, filled with cacti and S’morepions, or maybe give some Pengums a taste of the North Pole. You can even have a garden with equal parts grass, water, sand, and snow if you want to see how the natives will cope. Having more terrain options than just grass, dirt, and pond is a wonderful addition to an already-solid game.
The party missions are also handled differently in this game, in a way that I much prefer to the original. In the first game, you would sometimes get an “invitation” (a big crate, actually) to send one of your piñatas to a party (shove it in the crate and send it on its way), which would make it happy, increase its value, and make it more willing to do your bidding. However, these invites would often come at inopportune times, like when you’re in the middle of doing something else, or when you didn’t have that particular kind of piñata in your garden. In Trouble in Paradise, however, the missions are always available, and you can complete them at your leisure. Do a bunch at once, don’t do any of them, it’s totally up to you, and having that option is really nice.
The “trouble” part of the title refers to the shenanigans caused by Professor Pester and his cronies, who are even more of a collective nuisance than they were in the first game. Pester himself will sometimes come into your garden, choose a helpless piñata, kill it, and then laugh evilly, which is just mean. Also, some of the piñatas will be blocked in by various obstacles when they first appear, thanks to Pester and friends, so an additional requirement is needed to free that piñata before allowing it to visit your garden. However, as a whole, the “trouble in paradise” aspect doesn’t change up the gameplay that much.
One of the most talked-about new features of Trouble in Paradise is co-op play, both local and over Xbox Live. Four players can work on a garden together over Live, and depending on who your friends are, I would guess that could have some funny and unexpected results. Now, the good news (or maybe bad news, depending on how you look at it) is that you get to set the rules when you have people over to work in one of your gardens, so your friends can’t just come in and ruin everything if you don’t want them to. Maybe you trust your friends, but I certainly don’t trust anyone on my Xbox Live buddy list not to wreak havoc in the Garden of Serenity, so it’s certainly nice to have some regulations.
The game has also managed to improve visually, which is pretty impressive considering that the original came out less than two years ago. The graphics aren’t overwhelmingly advanced, but they are noticeably polished. Considering Viva Piñata wasn’t bad-looking to start with, it’s really nice to see that the developers put so much work into making sure every aspect of this game was an improvement over the last one.
Despite all of the additions and advancements Trouble in Paradise has made, there are still some elements of the game that I was less than thrilled about. The first is that this game can be really unforgiving at times. An example would be when a poisonous weed popped up in my garden without my notice. As anyone who has played the first game knows, piñatas are, for whatever reason, attracted to the poisonous plants, even though they become sick after eating them. Well, with this particular plant, not only did it poison my piñatas, but it also spread like wildfire; every time one plant was eaten, three more seeds would plant itself before I could get rid of any of them. Before I even knew what was happening, there was a huge patch of the plant, half of my piñatas were dying, and Dastardos was on his way to break them open; I ended up losing most of my animals, and had to sell off the rest and start over in order to salvage anything. As you can understand, it was pretty frustrating to lose twenty levels’ worth of work in a matter of minutes.
I also would have liked to see more piñatas in the regular garden setting. Yes, there are plenty of new species to go with the new environments, and there are some new grassland piñatas, but you’re also going to see plenty of Whirims, Sparrowmints, and Tafflys in the early hours of this game—just like in the first one. It’s not until you have gone up a few levels that you really get to see more of the new piñatas. However, even the returning piñatas have different visiting, residing, and mating requirements, so nothing is exactly as it was in the first game.
Because this game, like the one before it, has no actual ending, it has far more replay value than many games on the market today. This is the kind of game you can play constantly for weeks, put away, and then take back out a few months down the line to play some more. The achievements in this game are very different than they were in the first game, and while I’m not an achievement whore, I do believe they are an excellent way to lengthen the experience of a good game. The additional content in this game means it will be even harder for you to get your fill.
Some people might be surprised by the high score given to this game. However, when you look at the whole package, you have a second game in a series that brings improved gameplay, better graphics, and many additional features—all for a lovely $39.99 retail price point. If you’ve never been a fan of life simulators, than this probably won’t do anything to turn you, but even if, like me, you played the hell out of the first Viva Piñata, there’s more than enough here for you to do. If you’ve been thinking about jumping into this series, there is no better time to do so, and no better game to do it with than Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise.