Alone in the Dark Reader Review
Note: This is a review of the original Viva Pinata. Owing to technical problems, I was unable to submit the review under its proper title.
You wonít believe the day Iíve had. One moment, I was meticulously administering healthy doses of red fertiliser to my prospective batch of chilli plants; the next, I was littering my valuable areas of short grass with gems in the hope of luring the fabled Chewnicorn onto my hallowed turf. Thatís not to mention having to deal with the ramifications of my lone Ponocky starting, and losing, its umpteenth fight of the afternoon with one of my Horstachios. I must have had to call the doctor to tend to the stubborn blighter a hundred times by now, and my medical billís through the roof. And then, when all seemed to have quietened down, along came the resident ragamuffin to murder my sick animals. I was all for installing sentry towers to keep him out, but that would apparently be unethical and off-message. Letís just forget that the same lawmakers deem it acceptable for one to use a shovel to physically beat intruders and murder unwanted animals, and for resident critters to be forcibly set aflame in order to increase their resale value. I was only planning to use my sentry tower as a deterrent, but have it your way, Rare.
Still, thatís the life of a gardener, I suppose, or at least one on the backward society of Pinata Island. For a reason I must have missed during my agricultural induction with some masked young lass with a quaint Irish accent, folks like me exist for the main purpose of attracting animals into our gardens, subsequently breeding them and ultimately selling them off to ascend the next rung on the ladder towards landscaping immortality. Of course, access to the best items, creatures and plants is restricted only to those whoíve gained sufficient numbers of experience points, regardless of how financially sound they may have become but, again, I donít make the rules round here.
I can tell what youíre thinking now. Call it gardenerís intuition if you like. Youíre wondering if spending all my time with brightly-coloured critters filled with confectionery goods makes me long for human contact. Youíd be right, of course, and thatís why Iím thankful for all the help my new-found friends give me throughout the day. First, thereís Seedos, a wise, yet sadly misunderstood expert on the fine art of seed distribution. OK, so sporadically handing out free seeds may be his only real trick and, true, he does seem to resent me for it, but Iíll take all the help I can get. Then weíve got Willie Builder, a resourceful old chap I pay to build houses for my animals to live in perfect harmony and fornicate with their own offspring. Heís joined by a whole host of merchants in the local town, including a fittingly nonchalant pet shop owner and a scarecrow who transforms my useless tat into slightly more useful tat. Thereís even a beggar who, after I took pity on him and handed him 1,000 of my precious chocolate coins, now sees fit to rip me off with his extortionately-priced merchandise at his own shop. That, my friends, is capitalism at its finest.
In short, then, Iíve got everything I need to realise those late-dormant dreams of becoming a successful gardener. All thatís left is for me to toil and struggle day in and day out to tweak my garden to perfection in order to attract each and every Pinata into my realm of hardened soil, long grass and water lily plants. If that sounds a bit too similar to Pokemon for your liking, let me assure you that I have no such ties with such despicable barbarism. I donít force creatures to beat each other senseless before trapping them in miniature bowling balls. No, I merely merely force my residents to devour and engage in sexual intercourse with each other in order to add to my rapidly expanding collection and feed my insatiable ego. Thereís a big difference.
I make my life sound so stressful and demanding, so you maybe wondering why I even bother with it. Letís face it; Iíve accrued hundreds of thousands of chocolate coins, surely enough to secure early retirement and a nice country estate or, at the very least, that solid gold codpiece Iíve always wanted. Why do I keep coming back?
It could be the wonderfully vibrant visuals, I suppose. Pinata Island is brought to life in a sparkling burst of dazzling colour and artistic brilliance, ensuring that life amidst the flora and fauna seldom becomes dull or tedious. Maybe itís the cheery sound effects that greet me whenever I snag a new Pinata or successfully grow a plant to full maturity. Perhaps itís even because Iím a soft-hearted, benevolent fellow who loves being at one with Mother Nature.
In all likelihood, though, itís because Viva Pinata is a glowing example of a simple idea done well. Its exterior may be charming and its initial premise may seem almost alarmingly straightforward, but the gameís cute faÁade belies a pleasantly surprising level of depth. Enticing new species of a fictional animal kingdom can be a sluggish, grinding procedure, yet the sheer variety of new challenges with which Viva Pinata presents you means that it hardly ever feels repetitive. Seeing a new Pinata loiter tantalisingly close to your garden, only to turns its head and walk away, may be frustrating Ė heart-wrenching, at times Ė and having to keep an eye out for inter-species brawls and invasions from an array of no-gooders can be an exercise in controller-snapping madness, but the lack of game-ending penalties for failure saves your resolve and buoyancy, spurring you on to fight on and put right the wrongs of yesterday.
Itís just a shame that I was one of a rather paltry number of people who got to have such an experience. Despite a couple of additional attempts to make it an intrinsic component of Microsoftís software library, the Viva Pinata franchise never took off, and it looks as though itís as good as dead and buried now. In hindsight, though, itís hard to see how anything else could have happened. Viva Pinata was, after all, one of the earliest releases on the Xbox 360 console, a system whose install base was still in the process of establishing itself. In the end, it took gritty shooter behemoths like Gears of War and Halo 3 to set Microsoftís new machine on its way to a healthy early lead in the latest console war, but very few of the systemís new owners were ever likely to look twice at the juvenile-looking gardening simulator that was Viva Pinata. Thatís fair enough, I suppose, but I canít help but think that, given a proper marketing push, this game could have been a roaring success on the Wii, placing it alongside Pokemon and Animal Crossing as one of the crossover products for casual and more seasoned gamers alike. Itís all rather ironic, too, as Rare were such an integral part of Nintendoís publishing strategy for so many years before finally jumping over to the Microsoft ship. What a difference a few years can make.
On the bright side, poor sales have meant that Viva Pinata can now be picked up in shops for next to nothing. That should be a message to any late bloomers, such as myself, to take a look at what theyíve been missing for the last five years. If you donít like it, feel free to come over and have a few words with me. Iíll be in my garden, armed with my trusty shovel. And I havenít given up on that sentry tower, either.