The Xbox 360 isn't exactly a kid-friendly system. It has the occasional licensed Disney tie-in game, but most of the 360's big titles tend to be rated "T" at minimum and involve space marines and shotguns. Perhaps the biggest exception to this was Viva Piñata, an odd little title from Rare that managed to provide a surprisingly fun experience that bridged the age gap and garnered fans from many age groups. Yet, despite its well-received ratings and general popularity, most people passed off Viva Piñata as "a kiddie game" due to its bright colors and general lack of violence. While the sequel Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise doesn't stray from this roots, it certainly provides more of the same all-ages gameplay that the Xbox 360 so desperately needs.
For those not aware of the concept, piñatas are a popular party toy in certain areas. They are animal-shaped papier-mâché creations with hollow innards that are promptly filled with various kinds of candy. Kids are blindfolded and take turns whacking the piñata with a stick, trying to break it open and unleash the delicious swarm of candy inside. The concept of Viva Piñata is that these toys are not actually made in a factory, but bred and raised like any other animal in the world. They live and breathe, eat and sleep, and love and die. They just happen to be made of construction paper materials, and their natural processes fill them with candy. As you can imagine, this makes them rather in high demand, and there are people who create piñata gardens to raise these poor little creatures for parties and other gatherings.
Your primary goal in Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is to raise some of these adorable creations of candy and papier-mâché to meet the demands of people around the world. Before you can even begin raising them, you have to lure a piñata into your garden. Each of the 100+ piñatas in the game have its own unique set of requirements that you must fulfill before they'll come out of hiding and be attracted to your garden. Some will be attracted by beautiful flowers, the presence of certain other piñatas, or only come out at a certain time of the day. Once they've been lured out, you still have to find a way to make them want to stay, which also involves discovering that piñata's particular desire. Once you do, you can fulfill it in order to make the piñata feel favorable toward your garden. Some piñatas will hang out if your garden contains specific things, others will need you to give them specific treats before they're willing to stay, and some disturbing examples will only join your garden if you feed them other piñatas.
New to Trouble in Paradise is the addition of alternate habitat piñatas. While many of the 100+ piñatas in the game are found in or around your garden, some of the most in-demand piñatas can only be found elsewhere in the world. In order to find these rare piñatas, you'll have to travel to the desert or the arctic with traps and bait. Luring piñatas isn't too tough; you simply have to discover what makes them tick and set a proper trap with the proper bait. Some of the rarest piñatas are so picky that you'll have to do a boatload of work to get them into your trap, and once you have them trapped, the game is only half over.
Desert and arctic piñatas generally don't want to live in the lush green grasses of your garden, so once you've trapped them, they won't agree to stay without a bit of extra motivation. In addition to the other requirements used to keep a piñata in your garden, you may actually end up converting part of your garden into a desert or snowfield in order to keep these exotic piñatas happy. It really isn't difficult to pick up, but the ability to travel to new locations helps to keep Trouble in Paradise feeling fresh. To me, capturing piñatas in the other terrains didn't feel as fun or natural as luring piñata to your garden, and I never enjoyed capturing them quite as much as discovering a way to attract new piñatas in the garden.
The other kind of special piñata is a baby piñata. As befitting their bizarre half-alive, half-papier-mâché state, piñatas are indeed capable of breeding, although it involves a bizarre mix of mating rituals and stork delivery to pull it off. Breeding a baby piñata takes a bit of effort since piñatas aren't willing to hop in the proverbial sack without a lot of coaxing. In order to make piñatas breed, you need to fulfill a third set of requirements, similar to coaxing a piñata to stay in your garden. These objectives, however, tend to be substantially more difficult than the first two. You'll need two piñatas of the same breed, rare kinds of food, and you'll even need to build a special house for your piñatas so they can have some private time.
Once you complete all these mini-objectives and your piñatas are ready to breed, then comes the actual romancing, which is done through a mini-game. You guide your male piñata around a series of deadly pits, attempting to collect enough hearts to please the female. Collect enough hearts, and you'll even earn bonus chocolate coins to spend at game shops, although you'll have to be careful of the time limit. Successfully collect enough hearts and reach the female piñata before time is up, and your piñatas will sneak into their house to perform a mating dance. The mating dance summons Storkos, who brings a papier-mâché egg. Wait long enough, and your egg hatches into a baby piñata of the same breed, ripe for filling with candy and sending off to parties.
Regardless of whether your piñata is the home-grown variety, an exotic arctic specimen, or a newly hatched baby, its fate is always the same: packed into a shipping crate and sent off to a party or private individual. In return, your garden gains cash and experience points galore. Money is used to buy improvements for your garden, such as baits, houses, traps and various other objects to modify and adapt your garden. Experience points raise your farmer's level, and with each level, you gain access to new elements of your garden. Stores will sell new tools and food, the wandering Seedos will give you new seeds, and most importantly, your garden will grow in size. While it seems like an important focus, there isn't a particular reason to worry about increasing your level. If you just play the game, you'll gain plenty of levels, and you'll never be without things to do.
While Trouble in Paradise is a fun single-player experience, it really begins to shine with its multiplayer gameplay. For people in the same room, Trouble in Paradise features the Couch Social mode, which is an excellent way for a skilled gamer to play along with his or her inexperienced friend, or for a parent to play along with a child while still letting the younger gamer have the fun. By plugging a second controller into your 360, you activate Couch Social mode, which lets the person using the second controller help the main player, not unlike the Co-Star option in Super Mario Galaxy. The second player has access to the best tools in the game right off the bat and can use them to aid his partner. Whenever the second player does something helpful, he earns Magic Points, which fill up a magic bar that he can then use to cast magic spells to heal a sick piñata, increase its Candiosity, and various other things. The second controller is a great choice for less-experienced gamers so that they can still help and have fun, but without the frustration of having the more experienced player yelling in their ears about what to do. Likewise, the first player doesn't have to worry too much about the second player messing up his garden. Even an inexperienced player is able to provide a helpful boost with the Couch Social abilities.
For those looking for a long-distance experience, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise also offers the ability to take your garden online. You can invite friends over to help you garden, or if your friends are the less trustworthy type, invite them over to visit without granting them access to tools. For those seeking something a little more in the way of competition, you can also invite friends to bring their own piñatas for races or beauty contests to determine once and for all who the best piñata farmer is. The online play was fairly solid, lag-free and generally fun, although it doesn't hold a candle to Couch Social mode in any of its forms. Being able to show off your piñata garden or work together with friends across the country to make an inviting home for piñatas certainly is certainly appealing.
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is cute and fun. It isn't going to interest everyone, and the low difficulty and cutesy nature of the game will probably limit it to the same audience as the first Viva Piñata. However, if you're looking for a game to play with a less-experienced sibling or spouse, you could do a lot worse than Viva Piñata. It's playful, charming (assuming you ignore the grim potential inherent in the idea of sentient piñatas), easy and simple enough that even young players can pick it up with ease. The new features are just enough to keep Viva Piñata faithful satisfied with this follow-up, although some returning fans may find it a bit empty for a sequel. All in all, you could do worse than Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise if you're looking for a game for your Xbox 360 that doesn't involve explosions and space marines … assuming you ignore the delicious candy-filled tragedy that occurs off-screen at piñata parties.
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