Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
Platform: Xbox 360 Developer: Rare Publisher: Microsoft
Box Quote: “Your children will ask some uncomfortable questions concerning breeding.”-- Iroquois Pliskin, Versusclucluland.blogspot.com
Full Disclosure: To me, the commercial failure of the original Viva Pinata is the greatest crime against art in America since the theft of eighteen priceless dutch master paintings from the Isabella Stuart Gardiner museum in 1990. My fondness for Viva (as the hip kids call it) had this tinge of cheerful psychosis about it that I associate with my love for Civilization. The dirty secret of Viva was that it was not intended for children but for graduate students, a population with a boundless thirst for planning, ready access to caffination, and a healthy disregard for sleep. Viva is also tailored to my own habits regarding collection: I will not waste my time collecting a hundred of the same things (exception: agility orbs), but I will gladly devote my life to collecting sixty different things. It's a crucial difference, which also explains my fever to catch 'em all.
Gameplay: Tony Montana put it best: in this country, first you get the corn, then you get the quackberries, then you get the cocoadiles. Like the original, Trouble in Paradise is a gardening simulation; the player does not control any of the pinata animals directly, but shapes their fate by cultivating their environment in particular ways-- providing them habitat and food. Your long-term goal is to attract wild pinata animals to your garden and then breed them with each other to make more pinata animals, which you can then feed to the other wild pinata animals in order to swell your garden's ranks. If that sounds complicated, it's because it gets pretty complicated. There is an element of progression built in the game play-- as you level up by successfully growing new plants and attracting new species, you get access to more acreage, new gardening tools, and new seeds-- but the basic structure of the play is pretty open-ended. The fiendish charm of the gameplay lies in its resemblance to Civilization: there is always some new objective just out of your reach, and every time you think of putting the game down, you tell yourself “I'm just gonna go romance those squazzils and then I'll be done.” Next thing you know it's 3AM. Trouble in Paradise builds on the original by adding more species to collect and also does a good job of streamlining the interface (you can scroll through your population by hitting the bumpers, and purchase seeds without going to the store), which facilitates the task of managing your garden and is greatly appreciated. It also adds cooperative modes (which is great) and a “just for fun” mode; the latter will be necessary if children under the age of 18 want to play, since the game mechanics are too complex otherwise.
Story: There is the usual nonsense by way of framing: “Professor Pester is up to his old tricks, so it's up to you to take control of the loveable pinatas!” But like the Sims, the real story of the game is the story you tell yourself using the herds of adorable pinata animals at your disposal. The game mechanics encourage you to give each pinata a unique name, and you'll find yourself imposing a personal stamp on your menagerie by coming up with clever naming schemes for your favorite species. The attachment to your animals this creates poses some heady ethical dilemmas when it comes time to feed your beloved bunnycomb Mr. Hopsalot to predators. The animal kingdom is a savage theater of sex and death, and if one was looking to illustrate this to a disillusioned child one need look no further than Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise.
The Takeaway: Far and away the most addictive and deep animal husbandry simulation available on the Xbox 360 platform.