Viva Piñata: Party Animals
We're not quite sure about the "whole" Viva Piñata "thing" yet.
Xbox 360, PS3
I'm still torn with the Viva Piñata franchise (also I hate the word 'franchise'). On one hand it's a beautiful and imaginative world with some fun characters and a fair few laugh out loud moments. On the other hand it's a cynical, evil, corporate ploy aimed squarely at gullible children and those dumb enough to be taken in by the bright, moving colours. I can never seem to get over the fact that something just feels... I don't know - odd - about the whole thing. A bit off. A bit iffy.
It's too finely crafted and there aren't enough well-hidden nob gags to keep my cynic-o-radar at bay. The cartoon series feels well-meaning, but ultimately falls flat - it just feels like businessman approved 'wacky' fun that's supposed to have that broad appeal to kids and adults. The kind of thing that doesn't work if there's any hint of pretence about it.
It is bright though. And pretty.
Anyway, Rare have been left to carry on with whichever FRANCHISE it is they're remaking this week, so development duties for Party Animals has fallen in the hands of Krome Studios, famous for creating... Well, bollocks, frankly. Signs: not good. FRANCHISE whoring out beginnings: blatant. A world crafted with such obvious care and attention should not be whored out at the slightest sign of anything, especially not to a half-baked, just in time for Christmas party game. Rare should hold on to their baby, but hey ho - the money men calleth.
So what do we have, then? It's a party game (they make sure to explicitly state this in the title, just in case parents are confused) for up to four players. You take control of one of eight of the little piñata dudes, including the still wonderfully-named Hudson Horsetachio, and take to that place where they live and do some stuff. The format goes race-a few mini games-race-a few mini games etcetera, depending on how you have it set up. And it's functional.
Your finishing position in a race determines how many bonus points you get in the following mini games, and the races themselves play out like a crap Mario Kart made for idiots. You rarely - if ever - have to brake, a lot of power ups seem useless and it often comes across as completely arbitrary who wins the bloody things. So yes, a lot like Mario Kart. Zing!
That is, if you remove interesting track design, increase the amount you think opponents are cheating and generally break the damn thing. The races go from feeling like a decent distraction to a laborious task in the space of a few playthroughs.
Once you complete a race it's on to the mini games - all 50 or so of them. And by god if they aren't as dull as dull can be. Press this. Bump into this. Hold this. Eat this. Hit this. I can see Krome have gone for the 'keep it simple' routine, but it falls flat on its dull, grey arse pretty sharpish. Moving from races that feel like a chore on to mini games that make you wish you were playing A REAL GAME isn't a good sign. Though the boat burping one did make me laugh, if only because the burps sound very satisfying.
Party Animals isn't a complete disaster, it has to be said. Though this is mainly down to a simple fact that can be applied to many below average games with a multiplayer option (Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee, stand up) - playing the game with other people makes it bearable. If they're in the same room it can be outright fun. You can play the game over Live (and there's a nifty little viral achievement, which is one of the few very good touches to the game), but who wants to play a party game without others in the room to goad/throw things at/smash bottles on the head of? The dominance of myself over a father and his young son was hilarious over Live, I have to admit, but nothing can beat same room shenanigans for a game of this type.
It would, of course, be a lot better if the game itself were much cop. But hey ho, you can't have everything.
Them there grafficks and soundz are top-notch. It looks just as lovely as the original game, and almost as shiny as the cartoon series, and the voice acting is generally well-done. The presentation doesn't mask to poortitude of the overall experience though, and a group of friends can only be wowed by pretty colours for a short amount of time.
All in all, Party Animals isn't worth the bother. It's a shallow experience masquerading as something built with genuine heart, imagination and care. It reminds me of the many shocking film licences that get released, only this is a game licence. Which doesn't bode well.