Review: Viva Pinata Pocket Paradise (Nintendo DS)

Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Rare
Genre: Pinata Simulation
Release Date: 09/10/2008


Viva Piñata, Rare’s beautiful Xbox 360 pinata farming game, made many Nintendo fans yearn for the days when Rare developed for Nintendo. The bright visuals and fun but deep gameplay were a perfect fit for Nintendo’s traditional core. On the console side, it would be obviously impossible to see Viva Pinata on the Wii, but with Microsoft absent from the portable market, Rare is free to develop for DS. Published by THQ, Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise is Rare’s take on Viva Pinata for the portable market, and the results are amazing.

Viva Pinata is a difficult game to describe succinctly. You begin the game with a blank messy garden, and you start simply by clearing out the space. Then, slowly but surely, piñata animals will wander in or around your garden, joining your crew or moving along. There are a few tools at your disposal, including a shovel, water pot and grass seeds, all of which are upgradeable as the game progresses. As a gardener, you can plant trees and bushes, and grow a variety of fruit, vegetables and flowers. The variety is nice and can produce a wide range of looks in gardens.

There are dozens of different piñatas in Viva Pinata DS, from small simple animals like worms, to larger more advanced beasts like the horse or eagle. Growing certain plants to yield certain fruit will help attract new piñatas, as well as allow piñatas to mate with each other and hatch baby piñatas. Some piñatas have difficulty living together and will fight to the candy death until only one of the species remains in your garden. There are predators as well – ruffians that will destroy your precious piñatas and eat up the candy held within.

The game is quite open ended and never truly ends. The joy of the game is in the building and maintaining gardens full of rainbow piñatas, plants and other trinkets.

The open-ended nature of Viva Pinata is one of its best and worst features. Like Animal Crossing or The Sims, the lasting appeal lays in how invested you become in your garden and adding and maintaining various aspects of it. For some it wears thin, but there is a serene calm gained by simple and fun activities such as growing super plants or mating piñatas to create mutated specially colored variants. It would have been nice to have an online mode with the DS version, as visiting other gardens and trading piñatas would add an additional layer to the game. The absence of online is probably the only major omission.

Controlling the garden and the piñatas is sometimes a complex endeavor, and the Xbox controls map seamlessly to the DS double screen and touchpad. Most of the in-game activities are collected in cascading menu options accessible with the stylus. The menus are sometimes several tiers deep, but the game keeps it straight, and phases all the functions in along the way.

The most striking aspect of the Xbox 360 versions of Viva Pinata are the graphics. The DS pushes graphics closer to the level of Nintendo 64 than to Xbox, so the visuals in Pocket Paradise are not in the league of its console brothers. However, by DS standards, they are very impressive. Each of the piñatas is brightly colored and animates nicely, although they are sometimes blocky. The gardens themselves burst with life, and rarely see slowdown when there is a lot going on at once.

The viewable area, seen on the lower screen, represents a smaller amount of the garden visible at once compared with the Xbox 360 game. This is expected due to the DS, but it limits the game in a couple of ways. Gameplay-wise, it feels difficult to get from one corner of the garden to the other in a hurry and is sometimes a pain to link up piñatas or piñatas with items. Moreso, because one of the cool aspects of the Xbox game is to see a macro view of your piñata garden, sometimes the impact of longer-term play is minimized. This is a minor complaint, and only an issue by comparison, and might just be because I’m overly enamored with the 360 version’s graphics, but my well developed garden wasn’t quite as satisfying as on the DS console, and was sometimes hard to keep track of at later stages.

Aurally the DS version features a variety of speech taken from the cartoon, and does a good job of framing the colorful visuals.

While Viva Pinata borrows elements from other games such as the Sims, Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing, the combination of those parts, with new features and a fun group of characters, makes the experience very unique.

There is a new mode in the DS version that is intended as a lower barrier-to-entry version of the game. Players can just join a pre-made and developed garden and access a wide variety of items and piñatas to use and add to the garden. This removes the ramp up process and some of the unlocking tasks, and allows anyone to see some of the best parts of the game without spending dozens of hours playing. This is a really nice addition – a valid complaint of the original game was that the best and most unique piñatas were only seen by the fraction of gamers that went 40-50 hours deep or more into the game.

There is an intangible polish to Triple A games that very few companies reach on a regular basis. Nintendo is a great example, and Rare is very close behind. Everything in Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise feels like someone has given it thought. From the small characters to the witty script, from the variety of activities and items to the cartoon-y presentation, everything in the game has had care and attention paid to it. With so many shovelware games on DS, it’s great to see a third party take time and effort and make a game custom for the platform and unique in its presentation.

Overall, Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise is a complete, polished package that represents the best in original DS development. The graphics are colorful and burst with life, and the gameplay is fun, easy to learn but complex at higher levels, and most importantly, works well on the console. Xbox 360 owners might be ignoring Viva Pinata in favor of browner War games, but DS gamers thirst for games like this – engaging, deep and beautiful experiences that are games for the sake of being fun. It’s great for Nintendo fans to still have a taste of Rare greateness on the DS. Let’s hope it sells well so we see a sequel with online play and even more piñatas!

The Scores
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control & Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: CLASSIC
Balance: AMAZING
Originality: UNPARALLELED
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal Factor: ENJOYABLE
Miscellaneous: DECENT
Final Score: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s wonderful to see Rare developing on a Nintendo system, albeit for the DS, and the results are nothing short of amazing. So many third party games pale in comparison to Nintendo’s own first part releases, and Rare reminds us and everyone that it’s possible to create something on or above Nintendo’s level of quality. Quality graphics, engaging and original concept and gameplay, and open-ended gameplay that can eat up dozens of hours of your time (and did mine). Although not as visually stunning as the Xbox 360 version and lacking online play, Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise is one of the top DS games of the year.

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2 Comments
  1. Alex Lucard

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