It’s almost easy to forget that Rare Ltd. used to make games that didn’t have ‘Kinect’ in the title. A lot of people like to blame Microsoft for the company’s decline, but it could have just been a true glut of new, interesting ideas. There is one shining example of ingenuity that people tend to forget when discussing the Microsoft era of Rare. No, it isn’t Perfect Dark Zero. It’s Viva Pinata, of course! All of Rare’s charm, weirdness, and creativity are on full display in the Viva Pinata universe. While the original was a great game in its own right, the sequel, Trouble in Paradise, shows an expansion and evolution of the groundwork laid by its predecessor. Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise may not be for everyone, but those looking for a game unlike anything else out there, this is it. This is your paradise.

Let’s step back for a second to explain what kind of game this is for the unfamiliar, otherwise the rest of this review is going to sound absolutely insane. Viva Pinata is a game about building a garden in a vibrant, strange world where Pinatas (yes, Pinatas), represent the globe’s wild-life. As the player’s garden grows with plants and trees, the number of Pinatas that call it home will increase. The more impressive the garden, the better the Pinatas. Bad Pinatas, known as Sours, will try to cause a ruckus and ruin your hard work, so it’s not as relaxing as it sounds. It’s a constant balancing act between attracting new Pinatas, protecting the ones you have, and making your garden look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. It’s like The Sims, if people were always trying to break into your house and steal all your shit.

Each Pinata has their own set of parameters required before they become residents in your garden. Some Pinatas request certain types of flowers, some desire large bodies of water to play in, and some won’t enter unless there are other types of Pinatas available to eat. I’ll get to the cannibalism in a minute. As mentioned earlier, keeping all these requests while making your garden still look visually appealing that is the true challenge. At one point, my garden had a desert right beside a pond, right beside a snowy field. Not exactly the most realistic environment, but it looked pretty!

One way to gain new residents for your garden is for two Pinatas to, well, ‘make’ another one. That’s right, sweet Pinata loving is back. This time, there’s actually a mini-game dedicated to your Pinatas doing the deed. The game calls it the ‘romance dance,’ but you know what’s up.  You traverse a maze from an overhead view and try to collect hearts with an evil Pinata chasing you. If you collect enough hearts, the dance is successful. Imagine the end of The Shining with Pinatas, and you have the basic idea. 

This has always been the most interesting part of Viva Pinata. Not necessarily the sex stuff, but the way the game is perceived to be for a younger audience, while slipping in loads of inappropriate and questionable themes. That’s probably Trouble in Paradise’s biggest hurdle: The look and concept of the game might be enough for people to write Viva Pinata off as ‘casual’ or ‘kiddie.’ But once you get down and dirty with all the plants and Pinatas and pests, things can get pretty damn hectic. This isn’t a game where you can sit back and hope everything turns out for the best. Mastering the mechanics requires patience, multi-tasking, and item management. Warning: This is one of those games that causes the hours to slip by without notice. After a long session of gardening, the rest of the world just doesn’t seem as colorful or exciting.

You can always play the ‘Just for Fun’ mode if you want to calm things down a bit. Sour Pinatas won’t invade your garden, you have infinite chocolate coins (the game’s currency), you don’t have to worry about weeds, etc. However, you can’t unlock achievements or attract some of the rarer Pinatas, so there is a downside to sticking exclusively to this mode. If you want the true, hardcore Viva Pinata experience, stick with “Standard Mode.”

There’s also true Co-op, which is new to the series. The first game had a co-op, in which two players controlled the same cursor. It was enough to make you never want to have friends again. Trouble in Paradise lets your friends jump in and out of your garden with their own cursor. They can help water yours plants, break-up Pinata fights, and basically anything else the main player can do. If you have a friend you don’t trust, avoid co-op. He or she can really mess things up if you don’t keep an eye on them. Stay away from my garden Mitchell!

So, back to the cannibalism. Cannibalism and sex: The two staples of Viva Pinata. In a twisted cycle, you start by attracting cute, small Pinatas to your garden.  You grow attached to them, name them, and give them cool accessories. They even have babies, but this only entices larger Pinatas to come along and devour your loved ones…Which is actually kind of what you want? It’s a difficult dilemma. You grow fond of certain creatures, knowing at the back of your mind that you’re just offering them up as sacrifices to the ultimate Pinatas. I’m not sure if this is what Lion King meant when it spoke of the ‘Circle of Life.’

I named all my Pinatas after Game of Thrones characters, to add another layer of morbid enjoyment to the game. Jon Snow, a Newtgat, killed Ned Stark, a Lickatoad, and ate the candy that burst out of him. Even George R. R. Martin wouldn’t have seen that one coming. The two Preztails I had were named Jaime and Cersei Lannister. They did the romance dance and gave birth to a bouncing baby Joffrey. Pretty faithful to the source material after all. In the end, all my original Pinatas, the ones I named after my favourite characters, were dead. So again, pretty faithful to the source material.

There’s more to Trouble in Paradise than just gardening and taming new Pinatas. A character named Langston will give out challenges that task you with sending requested Pinatas to imaginary parties around the world. They aren’t mandatory, but they give an incentive to constantly seek out new Pinatas. There are over 100 Pinatas to collect, so sticking with the same ones all game long would be boring. These challenges give the game a sense of structure and progression that was lacking from the original. Trouble in Paradise isn’t really a game you ‘beat,’ but if you have a completionist mind-set, this should help you scratch that OCD itch.

As sound as all these mechanics are, there are bound to be faults. The amount of buildings, piñatas and plants you can have in your garden at one time is a little limiting. The number of times I had a character say “Whoa there, your garden’s a little too crowded at the moment’ was infuriating. I had the maximum garden size for crying out loud! What more did they want?

Along with Sour Pinatas, there are villains known as Ruffians that pose an even bigger threat. The Ruffian leader, Professor Pester, is the worst of the bunch. He’s a real prick. He invades your garden and makes a beeline right toward your most prized Pinata. If you don’t stop him in time, or pay him off, he blows up your pride and joy, laughing in your face while he does it. He’s the cruelest video game character of all-time. Later on in the game, when you can purchase decoy Pinatas or enlist the help of bigger Pinatas to scare him away, he isn’t much of a problem. Early game, when you don’t have the resources, he’s unstoppable. I just built a fence around him he could never escape from. I have to hear him muttering insults at me the entire game, but at least he can’t do any harm. Take that, you bastard.

The inclusion of Pinatas from different environments is cool, but under-developed. For one, there are only two areas away from the mainland: The arctic and the desert. The problem is that these places feel too secluded from your garden. You can’t build anything in those areas. You actually have to lure the Pinatas into a box and ship them back home if you want to keep them. Therein lies the other problem. Baiting and capturing exotic Pinatas is largely luck-based, and very pricey. If you spend a bunch of money on a box and some bait, there’s no guarantee of success. The Pinatas can sense something is off and dash away before the trap activates, screwing you out of a Pinata and some hard earned chocolate coins. The struggle has never been more real.

Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise is a game you build a connection with. You name your Pinatas, you send them to fashion shows, and you make up stories from each of them. You remember everything, from your first, tiny Bispotti, to the mighty Flapyak that you spent hours trapping. Sure the game has frustrations, but at the end of the day, when you step away from your garden and look at the community you created, you feel proud. And then Professor Pester comes in and mucks everything up. Sigh. If Microsoft wants to attract people to the Xbox One, they’re overlooking one of their best, most under-rated franchises. Bring on Viva Pinata 3!


Final Score - 8/10

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