When Microsoft first released Viva Piñata back in 2006, there were a few Rare fans out there that thought to themselves: “This is what we’re getting instead of Killer Instinct 3?” Now fast forward to the present and those same people are probably going to look at Trouble in Paradise and say: “We’re still getting this instead of Killer Instinct 3?” What I’m trying to do here is not surreptitiously embed my own plea for another Killer Instinct game, but make it clear that the love/ hate attitudes towards the Viva Piñata series will not have changed with this iteration, because it’s pretty similar to the first game.
In an attempt to add a dash of conflict to an otherwise serene setting, Trouble in Paradise tasks would-be gardeners with the responsibility of rebuilding the Piñata Database, after arch-fiend Professor Pester wiped the records clean. Fans will be taken back to the good old garden, and begin work on enticing over 100 new and old piñatas to visit, take up residence, and reproduce (in a child-friendly fashion of course). Most VP vets will feel right at home with the toolset containing the usual items such as the shovel, watering can, and seeds to create a Garden of Eden for candy filled critters. A new trick stick has been added, so that players can permanently teach their Piñatas fancy moves, and have them perform them on the fly. The controls have remained largely the same, with the left stick maneuvering the cursor, and right stick controlling the camera, X bringing up the tool menu, and A as the select button.
In order to earn experience players will have to complete challenges assigned by Langston at Piñata Control that involve collecting certain creatures. But before Piñatas can be shipped across the world their candiosity has to be brought up to par. In the past, Piñatas could generally be fed anything, but this time they’ll be a little pickier, as Rare has made some foods harmful to certain species’ health. While reaping the rewards from these challenges, and visiting the local villagers like Costalot and Willy for more structures and flowers was nice, completing the challenges themselves tended to get a little hum drum. All that’s ever required is getting another Piñata into the garden and filling them up with candy, and although the procedures get a bit more complex the goal never exactly changes, making the garden start to feel a bit more like a sweat shop.
Fortunately, Trouble in Paradise allows the player to experience a change of scenery by introducing other environments such as arctic and desert regions that come with their own varieties of Piñatas. Players can set traps for the local creatures and have them shipped back to the home garden, where fresh surface packets and items become available to give the newcomers the feel of home. The introduction of other locales is a great idea, but there are only two of them, and the interactions that can take place there are fairly limited.
But I suppose the real appeal of the game is the tweaking and customization of the garden, and there will be some challenges that face proper management. The nasty sour Piñatas have returned, but also arriving to crash the party is Professor Pester and his band of Ruffians. In order to prevent damage to the garden the player can simply bribe off these bullies, but their danger never really elevates beyond a minor nuisance, instead of introducing new gameplay possibilities. If you do need a break from the everyday grind a couple of competitions are available to enter Piñatas in such as The Great Piñata Paper Chase, a racing mini game where players must run a course and dodge obstacles, or the P Factor talent show. While these events are beneficial to raising a Piñata’s overall value, they seem to merely serve as a brief reprieve from the garden, and won’t stay entertaining for long.
One can accuse the competitions of being a bit shallow, but certainly not the overall management of a Piñata garden itself, which even for a kids game might be a little too much responsibility for younger players. In order to provide a more accessible “drop in” experience, Rare has included Just for Fun mode, where players start with a fully equipped set of items, unlimited funds to get a garden built quickly, and no worries of dangerous Ruffians. Piñatas are also much easier to bring into the fold, so a collection can be built in no time. The only catch is that this mode is truly meant for short-term enjoyment, meaning both in-game saves and achievements are deactivated. It may be a simple addition, but it’s good advancement in terms of marketing the Viva Piñata brand towards everyone.
Speaking of marketing, Microsoft has concocted another method of getting kids hooked on the franchise with Piñata Vision. Here new items and accessories can be unlocked by scanning pre-paid cards under the 360’s vision cam. I think we can all understand the dangers of handing a kid a webcam and internet access, but the game does come with a commendable wealth of safety tips for using Xbox Live.
One of the most widespread criticisms of the first Viva Piñata was the lack of any in-depth multiplayer support, and Rare has rectified this grievance in spades. Players can now recruit up to three other gardeners over Xbox Live, or one for local play. Guests are limited to only using a fully upgraded set of basic gardening tools (or less if the host isn’t sure he/she can trust them) but can prove their worth with special abilities such as healing sick Piñatas. Whoever in the party has the highest level will determine the breed of Piñatas that will come out to play, so it’s a good way for newbies to see what awaits them further down the line, and shows just how unique every individual’s garden can be. Connection issues were nonexistent in our play tests, making for an almost seamless transition into multiplayer that brings along the core VP experience perfectly.
Though it may be a family game, Trouble in Paradise still packs some impressive visuals when it comes to the graphics department. All of the Piñatas are detailed and animated in such a way that each has their own very unique (and adorable) personality. The environments, while very animated, contain a full breadth of color and activity to make the garden feel alive. The villagers might be act a bit playschool-like at times, but remember the intended audience and one can appreciate the charming world that Rare has created.
Trouble in Paradise is not a bad game by any means. It’s still fun for kids who want to have fun caring for their favorite piñatas, and at the same time carries the addictive challenge of customizing a garden that strategy gamers can appreciate, and finally enjoy with others. But besides the addition of a decent multiplayer component, the majority of mechanics have remained the same. The extra environments are nice, but more could certainly have been included, and why not allow players to start a completely new garden in them with a whole new set of goals and challenges? All of these factors make Trouble in Paradise an enjoyable and widely appealing game, but once you do crack it open don’t be surprised to see the same assortment of sweets that the first provided.