Viva Piñata has meant good things for Microsoft. After Microsoft acquired Rare, Viva Piñata was developed for the Xbox 360 console, and licensing partnerships with 4Kids Entertainment led to the "Viva Piñata" animated television series. Without a doubt, the original Viva Piñata was an amazing strategy game. Even though the title featured bright, colorful childlike characters and an animated world that looked like it was straight out of a cartoon, the gameplay proved to be entertaining and challenging enough for adults. Viva Piñata averaged a score of 85 across 60 reviews and won several awards, so Microsoft decided to continue with the franchise name. Is Viva Piñata: Party Animals a step in the right direction, or is it simply a way to make a quick buck from the original title's popularity?
Aside from sharing the same characters, Viva Piñata: Party Animals is nothing like the original build-a-garden strategy title but is, predictably, a party-based collection of mini-games for young children. The storyline is nonexistent, there is no character development, and the goal is simple: win more mini-games than your opponent. While Party Animals has a couple of interesting and exciting mini-games, the replay value just wasn't very high. Similar games, like Mario Party and Fusion Frenzy, have no problem maintaining decent replayability, but there simply is none with Party Animals.
Each round of games you play, or "tournament," can support up to four people either offline (split-screen or against the computer) or on Xbox Live. The tournament is divided into a series of races and mini-games, and the length of the tournament can be short, medium or long, which determines the number of races and mini-games.
Although often somewhat comical, the mini-games were mostly boring. Party Animals boasts a rather hefty selection of mini-games — the cover boasts 50+ games and races — but the content simply isn't there. Each mini-game is based on one of six concepts but portrays that concept differently, so after just a few minutes of playing the game, you've practically seen it all.
For example, one of the mini-games involves your piñata gulping down some soda and then burping into the sail of a sailboat to move it across water toward the finish line. Repeatedly slamming on the A button chugs the soda, and alternating between A and X will shake the piñata so that the air builds up to a huge burp. Although I found this mini-game to be funny, a couple of mini-games later, I encountered one that involved yelling down a large pipe, which used the exact same control scheme as the soda burping mini-game. Tapping the A button built up the air in your lungs, while alternating between two buttons then sent the air flying down the pipe.
The other mini-game types include: a candy roller derby, where you run around the stage and pick up candy, bumping into your opponents along the way to disrupt their candy collection; a timing game in which you must press a specific button at the right time (i.e., trying to hit a swinging piñata overhead); competing to fill up more of a game board with your piñata's color within the allotted time; a derivative of the candy roller derby that requires more button mashing; and the most enjoyable, races.
The races are very similar to Mario Kart and proved to be the most interesting part of Party Animals. In each of the races, you speed down a path toward the finish line while dodging obstacles and busting through balloons for power-ups. Each power-up had its own purpose, like a speed boost or the ability to extract honey from a beehive to leave a trail behind you and slow down your opponents.
At the end of your selected number of races and mini-games, the overall points from each round is tallied up, and a winner is presented. A simple clip shows the top piñata standing on a first place pedestal and the rest of the competitors on their respective pedestals. The game then kicks you back to the title screen, allowing you to do it all over again.
At least Party Animals looks nice, but the assets had already been created during the development of the original Viva Piñata. The game keeps the same cartoonishly animated but polished look, which continues to look good. Each piñata and level is brightly colored and decorated to appeal to a younger audience and keep the mood light and fun.
The sounds of the piñatas during the mini-games were absolutely comical. From the side chatter to the burp echoes, each mini-game had the potential to at least put a smile on your face.
The controls are different for each mini-game, but they become very easy to use after just a short period of time, even without the instructional prompts. Most of the game functions are repeated, such as speeding up in a race or moving an object across a path using the right trigger, and the same corresponding controls are also repeated throughout the mini-games.
Viva Piñata: Party Animals is a graphically impressive party game. Although it may seem a bit droll and uninspired to the hardcore gamer, it does an admirable job of being a fun party game for the younger crowd. Even if you're looking to get this title for a child, the current price of $50 should give you pause. At a lower price point, Party Animals would make a decent pick-me-up for a young child or a Viva Piñata fan.
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