Viva Piñata: A Game Previewed at X’06

by Beauty

I recently had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s presentation of new and upcoming games, at their media-only event known this year as X’06. MaxPower and I represented R4NT Magazine to get the scoop on the new games coming down the pipeline. There were a number of games that were ready for release for the all-important Christmas buying frenzy, while others were still in the early development stage and wouldn’t be released until much later in 2007. One game that immediately stood out from the rest was Viva Piñata, a game developed by Rare Ltd. Rare is the developer behind GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64 – as well as Perfect Dark: Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power for the Xbox 360. The game was eye-catching not only because of its colourful characters and cartoonish animation, but because these elements were in such stark contrast to the other games on display such as Gears of War (which was eye-catching in its own right and will be profiled in an upcoming review).

Viva Piñata combines many elements that you might recognize from other games, but likely not games you would traditionally associate with a Microsoft console. The main purpose of the game is to create a unique fantasy world that will attract colourful piñatas to live. This concept reminded me of games such as Roller Coaster Tycoon as each structure and feature of the world is placed and built by the player, right down to miniscule details such as the terrain of the land. Viva Piñata also combines elements found in games such as Animal Crossing where maintenance and upkeep tasks must be performed by the player or subcontracted out to workers, and The Sims where characters have needs and desires that need to be fulfilled. Different elements of the environment will attract different piñata species to live and thrive on your land, but the player will need to experiment to find out what these elements are. For example, if the player can figure out how to breed a new worm-like piñata, a bird-like piñata will quickly come along.

Viva Pinata - Screenshot 1

Viva Pinata - Screenshot 2

That’s right, the piñatas breed. There are two ways you can increase the piñata population: breed them, or attract them to immigrate in. In order to encourage breeding you need to introduce two piñatas of the same species and successfully complete a mini-game. You are then rewarded with a cut screen of a species-specific piñata dance accompanied by music – you have to trust me when I say that the animations are really cute and quite delightful. The other way to attract piñatas is to create an environment or situation that draws them in – these are species specific and will need to be discovered by the player but the worm and bird situation described above is one example. There are 60 different piñata species to discover, and players can choose which of the piñata species they want to have in their world – if they can figure out how to attract them.

Viva Pinata - Screenshot 3

The description of the game thus far might make the game seem a little – tame – compared to other titles for the Xbox 360. This is true. A game like this would never have been released on the original Xbox which was marketed to the hard-core gamer market. Now Microsoft wants to compete with the family-friendly Nintendo Wii and market their Xbox 360 to appeal to novice gamers who do not currently own a game console. The cutesy graphics may appeal to a new demographic of gamer, but Rare has thrown in some elements that will appeal to gamers that like a little bit more *conflict* in their games. There are some species of menacing piñatas that will enter your land uninvited, and will proceed to wreak havoc if the player can’t figure out a method to deal with them. Players that want to encourage or foster chaos in their world can do so, and they can even take their beastly creations online. One method by which players can eject unruly piñatas from their world is to box them up and ship them to a friend’s Viva Piñata world over Xbox Live. I’ll leave it up to players to discover other methods of spreading chaos, or peace as they so choose.

Viva Pinata - Screenshot 4

Viva Pinata - Screenshot 5

Viva Piñata may seem like a children’s game at first glance, but don’t be fooled. While the graphics are cute and colourful and the world fantastical, the game will quickly become quite challenging as the ever-growing world will need to be maintained. The piñatas will need to be kept happy, maintenance tasks will need to be performed (or workers paid to do them for you), and full-out piñata battles will need to be avoided, or encouraged according to your preferences. The mini-games increase in complexity and certain piñata species will be quite difficult to attract. The replay value of the game is huge, and there is always the option to start again and do everything differently the next time. The ability to interact over the Xbox Live network also has appeal, as piñatas and other elements of the game can be swapped with other players – or forcefully introduced into their worlds. This game is so different than any others offered on the Xbox 360 that I think it’s worth a look. Its release date is November 2006, and it’s definitely on my Christmas list this year.

  • Viva Piñata: A Game Previewed at X’06
  • by Beauty
  • Published on October 23rd, 2006
November 9th, 2006

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