Review: Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise

VivaPinataPocketParadise.jpg Rare’s Viva Piñata franchise has probably been the most under appreciated great new franchise of the current console generation. It’s a shame, but it’s understandable considering how much the franchise is marketed for the kid/casual audience. Viva Piñata games are cute, cuddly and kid-friendly, descriptors sure to scare off the hardcore crowd who can’t get enough of their Halo and Grand Theft Auto. Under that saccharine-sweet exterior though, the Viva Piñata games are deceptively deep and complex, enough so to please even the most hardcore of gamers. Case in point, I’m a hardcore gamer in my mid-20s and I absolutely adore Viva Piñata!

After two fantastic Xbox 360 installments and a PC port of the original game (there was that Party Animals mini-game spin-off as well, but it wasn’t developed by Rare and completely sucked so I don’t count it as part of the series), Rare’s piñata raising garden simulation has finally made the portable transition to the DS in Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise, and low and behold the DS proves to be the perfect platform to showcase the accessibility and depth the Viva Piñata experience has to offer.

Pocket Paradise doesn’t do anything differently than its bigger console brothers. It’s a simulation game in which you manage a garden of adorable piñata animals, building habitats and planting and growing flowers, trees and vegetables in order to attract new species and get new residents in the mood to do their “romance dance” and make little piñata babies. Each species of piñata has specific requirements that need to be met so that they’ll even visit your garden (typically growing a certain type of plant), and additional requirements from there to get them to become official residents and become ready to mate.

If you raise them properly, piñatas will grow up and fulfill their duty of providing entertainment at birthday parties, at which point you ship them off and await their successful return. Not all piñatas get along either, so like any simulation game you have to tend to the needs of your residents and ensure that your garden really does blossom into a pocket paradise, and by doing so properly you are regularly recognized for your efforts with a variety of awards, like improved tools, new plant types and expanded garden terrain.

This formula worked well on console and PC, but it works even better on the DS thanks to the greater control offered by the touch-screen interface and two-screen display. Browsing menus, using tools, placing objects, directing piñatas and all other managerial tasks are so much more quick and intuitive with a stylus in hand. Rare also did a wonderful job utilizing the two screens. By tapping the right shoulder button you can swap the gameplay and status views back and forth between screens in an instant without losing sight of either view. Attention to details like this just show that the developers focused on making a great game rather than shoveling out a gimped portable port to make a quick buck off the casual audience.

What’s impressed me even more is how well the graphical fidelity of the Xbox 360 titles translates over to the DS. Obviously Pocket Paradise can’t compare directly to the previous games, but for a DS game it truly is a technical showpiece for 3D graphics on the platform. The environments and piñatas are rendered in great detail and with a vibrant, colorful charm that literally pop off the screen and puts a smile on your face. Even subtle elements like weather effects and a day-night cycle are nailed here. The audio is splendid too, from the adorable snoring of your sleeping piñatas to the alert chime you get when you’ve unlocked a reward or a new piñata visits your garden.

Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise is a gem of a game, definitely one of the more fulfilling experiences to be found on the DS. Young or old, casual or hardcore, this is a game you simply have to play.

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Pros:
+ Excellent use of the DS’s unique interface features
+ Gameplay balances simplicity and complexity well; it’s accessible yet deceptively deep
+ Bright, colorful 3D graphics

Cons:
– Some form of multiplayer beyond item trading would’ve been great

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Rare
Release Date: 9/8/08
Genre: Simulation
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2 (trading items only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!