Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

We smash open Rare's sequel to Viva Piñata.

Xbox 360

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By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

With spit-flecked anti-videogame polemics ten-a-penny these days, it's mystifying that Rare's idiosyncratic Viva Piñata series has escaped reproof. Consider the premise: you, a fledgling gardener, are charged with seducing legions of cute fluffy things onto your land, fattening them up with sweets, produce and other Piñatas and then selling them off to be mercilessly smashed to bits by hyperactive school kids in far-off lands. You can also induce Piñatas to breed by spiking their diet and indulging in some spinelessly innuendo-free maze subgames, and crack them open with your shovel if they do anything displeasing, such as acting in accordance with their own natural instincts. Wake up, RSPCA - the battle for animal rights just spawned a whole new frontier.

OK, so Viva Piñata is hardly a tabloid terror at a glance - hookers, for instance, are scarce commodities on Piñata Island - but the game is surely all the more insidious for being less obviously corrupt: what better way to endorse injustice than to tart it up with Nickelodeon production values? Sadly this immoral set of mechanics led to a delicious videogaming experience, and the sequel, we're sorry to say, is just as addictive.

That's "just as," yes - no more, no less. Rare has tweaked the controls some and dug up a few new Piñatas (32 in all), items and modes, but Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is otherwise much the same kettle of candy-filled papier-mâché fish. The visuals and audio are almost identical, for starters, with many of the cut scenes, fruity background tunes and saccharine lines of dialogue transplanted intact. As before, the Piñatas themselves are little origami masterpieces, and even at an embryonic level your garden sizzles with colour and life. The default top-down view can be moved with the left stick and rotated with the right, while right trigger zooms in and left trigger pulls out.

Trouble in Paradise also inherits a slightly muddled introductory period - now styled as a more laissez-faire "player guide system" - with Piñata popping up willy-nilly to free-roam your garden, and the denizens of the island butting in every thirty seconds to give their two pennies on animal husbandry. Couple this with the expected tumult of gameplay doodads - different kinds of ground surface, Piñata accessories, a stream of new seeds from the hated vagrant Seedos - and it's easy to feel overwhelmed.

But outlast the first fifteen levels or so and you'll start to get a handle on things. For the average gamer, playing Viva Piñata will be a matter of learning to let go, overriding that deeply-instilled efficiency imperative in favour of rambling at leisure through the game's forest of a feature list. There's much to win on Piñata Island, but little to lose - at worst, incurring a few losses to predators, infighting or disease will merely oblige you to fall back on a few low maintenance Piñata while you stump up the profits (measured, once again, in Chocolate Coins) to launch another venture.

If you'd rather not undergo the somewhat sluggish tutorial, Rare has done the decent thing and bashed together a free-play mode, which equips you with an infinite coin supply and access to almost every item, tool or Piñata. But even if you stick with the standard campaign, after five hours or so you'll be in horticultural heaven. Besides the thrill of attracting and breeding new Pinata, the game provides a structure of sorts in the form of challenges set by Piñata Central, but you're never pressured to toe the line. Every passing moment brings its own myriad of decisions - whether to sell a Hazelnut or feed it to a potential Squazzil resident, whether to treat a bolshie "Sour" Piñata to the flat of your shovel or attempt to rehabilitate it - but such is the consequence-free flow that you'll rarely break a sweat. Managing your garden at higher levels is a little easier thanks to the new Piñata Finder, which lets you zip from creature to creature by tapping the bumpers.

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