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Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise

 

Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Category: Simulation
 
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Developer: Rare
Publisher: THQ

Features

1-2 Players
Wireless DS Multi-Card Play
Touch Screen Compatible
Rumble Pak Compatible

Viva Piñata is a game which got its start on the Xbox 360. Developed by long time developer Rare, it was loved by many, but unfortunately it was not nearly the commercial success it should have been which was surprising given how the game scored so positively amongst critics. But Rare, along with Microsoft, fully believe in this franchise and they have continued move it along in so many directions. There is a cartoon series based on the game's characters, a party game was released on the 360 (Viva Piñata: Party Animals) sometime ago, and true sequel (Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise) was released on the 360 within the past month. Interestingly enough, Rare has also focused outside of the home console market, as the handheld sector deserves some of their love too. Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise is one such game as Rare has partnered up with publisher THQ to put piñata's in the pockets of those with a DS.

Graphics

Visually speaking, I have to say that the transition of the Viva Piñata franchise to the DS was a pretty good one which somewhat surprised me as the DS is not a powerhouse graphics machine. The piñatas themselves are rendered in 3D while the environments are 2D. Even though there is a difference of in the ‘D’ factor, both of these two styles blend in really nicely with each other. Character models look great and animate great, and you really do get that feeling you are raising and wooing piñatas right from the start. In terms of any special effects, you will notice the subtle things such as lighting and shadowing. There is even a cool fog effect which is pretty cool as it drifts around your garden until the sun rises and starts to burn it off. Yep, there is that kind of detail in the game. Overall I didn’t find anything wrong with the visuals and it really made the enjoyment of the game stand out even more.

Sound

The audio presentation in Pocket Paradise complements the visuals. Of course headphones are the way to go but the sound that radiates from the DS’s small speakers is pretty good too. Surprisingly, Rare was able to use dialog that definitely seems to be taken from the Nickelodeon TV show and put it on the DS cartridge. Now I am not 100% sure that this is the case, as I have only seen a sliver of the shows available, but man does some of what is heard in the game sound like that of the cartoon itself. Trust me; once you see some in movie clips you will swear it is the cartoon you are listening too. In terms of any other sound effects, the game is very Viva Piñata like. From various piñata noises to environmental sounds (e.g. rainy weather) you will get a strong feeling that you are in control of a living breathing world of animals full of candy. I say kudos to Rare for the job they did in this area.

Gameplay

For those who know what the Viva Piñata franchise is all about I highly recommend skipping this paragraph, for the uninitiated, please read on. The best way to explain the Viva Piñata is that it is a simulation style game created in the same vein of such well known classics as Harvest Moon or even Nintendo's own Animal crossing. It is all about raising animals, but in this case piñatas. Of course keeping your piñatas happy and healthy, while being able to find more types, is the main goal here. This includes making their living area(s) as friendly and as enjoyable as possible. If you have played any type of simulation game then the basics are already well known to you.

Now to be honest, I am far from a simulation game fan, and my experience with them is far and few between. So this review will be quite interesting as you will get a relative rookie's perspective on what the game has to offer.

The game starts of simple enough as you start tending to your garden in an effort to make it hospitable for piñatas to come and start hanging out. The garden is quite barren at first, and even somewhat unwelcoming. You need to take this plot of land and work on the grass, shrubs and whatnot in order to make it more inviting which in turn will attract your future piñatas to your neighbourhood. Once you do this you'll find that the early piñatas who come and take up residence are quite easy to please and this is where the addiction begins. You need to find the things that make them happy. It can be as simple as having a certain type of flower or other piñata in your garden. As a relative newbie to the series I had a blast looking at all the new piñatas that showed up while I was still trying to determine how to make the ones already there happy. All of this was kind of cool.

One of the more stranger, but yet somewhat addicting, aspects of Viva Piñata is that you must find ways to please your various piñatas in an effort to get them to romance and eventually mate. Yes, you heard me right; you must get your piñatas to find love and want to have some form of relations in order to continue making more. Of course the reasoning for this is to allow you to populate your garden with new breeds of the animals.

During my time with Pocket Paradise I found myself really enjoying the implementation of the DS's touch screen and stylus capabilities. From single tapping the screen to select anyone of my piñatas and directing them about to using the stylus to plant bushes in my garden, everything was very intuitive. The DS's unique control options are quite suited to this game and I think that Rare did a great job at using the strengths of the DS to further the gameplay controls.

If I have one complaint about the gameplay it is that the early stages are quite easier then the latter stages. I also noticed that the earlier stages seemed to capture my attention a lot more then the latter stages too. As I noted three paragraphs above, the piñatas earlier on in the game are very easy to please as they only require simple things to make them happy. However, piñatas later on in the game are much tougher to figure out as the needs the things that will entice them into your garden, and eventually cause them to romance, are much more complicated and can take a lot of experimenting to figure out. By this time I had already collected quite a few neat looking piñatas too, so with the harder complexity, as well as the time already invested, I found that my excitement diminished somewhat. Now before you inundate me with negative e-mails, this is only my opinion based on my experience as a rookie to this series. And in the end it is not a deal breaker. Remember, I did enjoy the game for quite a bit until this point, and even once this point was reached I didn’t hate the game, it was just that my excitement started to dwindle a bit.

Something that concerned while I was playing Pocket Paradise was the skill level needed to enjoy this game. I was worried that children who are not adept at this type of game would not be able to handle the micromanagement involved. However, there is a new Playground Mode that is only available on the DS version of Viva Piñata. Here younger fans of the franchise can fire up their DS, enter into some pre-made random gardens and start to add whatever stuff they want with no worries about cash or piñata types available. Pretty much all items and piñatas that are available in the game are accessible at the start as evidenced by a trip to the store. This is a nice feature and it allows an even wider audience a chance to play this game on the DS.

Finally, Rare has also included some limited multi-card multiplayer capabilities. Here you can transfer items such as piñatas, accessories or objects from your own garden to a friend’s garden. THQ and Rare note that some exotic species of piñata can only be attracted using this feature. Now I have to be honest here as I didn’t get a chance to try this out as there was no one else in the GameBoyz office with another copy of the game, so I cannot really comment on this feature.


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