Real time strategy games have always had a special place in my heart, from way back playing the original Sim city on SNES I always liked the idea of become a god of sorts and taking control of peoples lives, so when Viva Piñata was released on the 360 my ears twitched a bit though it flew under my radar. Now however there is a portable version for Nintendo DS, but how does it play? Read on and find out.
For those of you who have never heard of Viva Piñata I will bring you up to speed, Viva Piñata is a game where you see yourself as a pseudo gardener/caretaker who has to simply look after the plants and Piñatas that live there, the Piñatas follow the American tradition of being animals filled with sweets but these Piñatas are alive and their one dream in life is to be sent to a children's party and so forth.
This game pretty much completely relies on the touch screen for most of the controls with the face buttons simply used to move your view as you would with the directional keys on a keyboard in a PC RTS. One nifty thing I noted was the action buttons i.e. A, B etc also move the playing field making the game support left hand play which is a plus.
After you make your little profile you are presented with the tutorials, unlike most games where the tutorials are called tutorials and teach you in a very cold and somewhat inhuman fashion, Viva Piñata Pocket Paradise is different. With the game being targeted at a younger audience THQ and Rare have managed to revamp and make the somewhat tedious Tutorials interesting. By renaming them to episodes and adding FMVs depicting the Viva Piñata characters in somewhat relevant situations at the beginning of each tutorial they have managed to almost give the feel that you are about to sit down and watch a TV episode instead of a somewhat drawn out and boring tutorial.
The tutorials themselves are pretty standard fare which is a shame, I do like how which ever character is in the FMV is the character who will guide you through the tutorial and each are written differently and all have their own personalities, it's the little touches that make all the difference. A small point I should make at this time is on the subject of text, the tutorials tell you everything in text form, why they don't have it all voiced over, especially for it's target audience I don't know but I digress. My point is there is some text, no where near as bad as other games I've played but there is enough to frustrate some younger children who maybe can't read too well and the text is critical to completing the tutorials which doesn't help too much in that case.
Once you've finished the tutorials, which won't take too long, you are then allowed to enter your garden and so the game begins. Your garden is a dump to begin with which means you'll be spending the first ten minutes destroying junk, turning over soil and planting grass to lure Piñatas from the wild into your garden and hopefully make them residents. To get a piñata into your garden you have to fulfil a requirement be it a certain number of a particular piñata or a type plant, a piñata won't even look twice at your garden if you don't fulfil these requirements. Once you have the piñata in your garden keeping it there can sometimes be hit or miss in that if for example the requirement is to feed it a certain type of seed or fruit, the piñata will normally eat it right away and become a resident but if your quarry needs to say eat another piñata getting it to do that can be a long and tedious waiting game of trying to move your piñata in front of it purposely to start a conflict, which never works. All this requirement data along with the in game time is displayed at the top of the screen while you play the game on the bottom screen.
As you begin to accumulate more and more piñatas you'll quickly find that there is not enough room for all their houses, which is a requirement if you want your piñatas to have baby piñatas, the game sort of takes care of that by increasing the size of your garden over time to accommodate these new piñatas but you will have to make a choice as to whether you want to keep the piñatas you have or get rid of them for newer ones.
As I said before the in game time is displayed on the top screen and like in real life determines time of day, as with most games the time moves faster than it would do in reality which when you first start out can make night times seem a little tedious as you'll have nothing to do while your piñatas slumber the night away but that quickly changes as you get more and more piñatas the game begins to get extremely hectic during the daylight hours with pop-ups telling you you've done this and that along with offers to send your piñatas off to parties and my personal favourite when a pop-up takes you out of the game to give you yet another episode tutorial while you were trying to do something important.
One thing you begin to realise when playing this game is that it's deep, and I mean as deep as the ocean deep, there's an encyclopaedia full of information on all the piñatas in your garden and a piñata pyramid showing which piñatas you have and where they place on the pyramid. But the one thing that made me think "wow" was that certain piñatas will change their requirements from night to day thus making it easier/harder to get them to stay in your garden.
The touch interface is rather intuitive meaning gameplay is smooth and uninterrupted but only when you remain stationary, when on the move however, such as on a train or a bus you'll find the stylus based controls make it very difficult to accurately plant seeds or turn over specific portions of soil when you're being rattled around on your way to work, but as a 'play when you're bored' game at home it fills that need quite well.
Since the DS isn't a power house of 3D graphical power don't expect graphics anywhere near its 360 counterpart, the game is in 3D and most the piñatas look pretty darn good for the most part with only a few minor complaints being that the piñatas themselves look more like normal animals that lost a fight with Laurence Llewellyn Bowen in a putrid mix of garish colours but like I say the DS is no power house and the fact the game is in 3D at all with graphics that are more than half decent for the console it something I won't purposely moan on about.
The title music is very upbeat and lively fitting into the whole age group the game is geared towards, other music tracks in the game seems to take a page from 'The Sims' with a more melodic elevator music kind of tone to it. Sounds in the FMV's are a little distorted, this could be due to compression in the videos, and it isn't really that noticeable unless you have headphones plugged in so it's nothing really to worry about. In game sound effects are accurate and sound crisp and clear, everything from the shovel hitting some junk, to the eggs hatching all fit the game perfectly.
The game is rated U by the BBFC which I think maybe a little too low as the game text is unsuitable for younger players, the game can also get rather hectic at times with pop ups and icons flashing constantly all the time. But all that aside if you are looking for something a little different with a sense of depth to it then this game should be added to your list somewhere.