Let me tell you about this amazing little island just south of Mexico. Spend just a few hours in the gardens of Pinata Island and you'll always want to come back. Beautiful trees, flowers, ponds, and lush green grass stretch as far as the eye can see. The place is crawling with these crazy little paper animals, filled with candy; pure sweet candy. That's probably why it's called Pinata Island, this is where those treat filled paper critters live, eat, and breed.
When I first decided to get my boots muddy in the garden it was clear from the outset that I had a huge amount of work to do. Before me was a dump covered with garbage and hard packed soil. Standing in the middle of this wasteland was a woman in a green mask who introduced herself as Leafos, my guide to all things Pinata Island. Through the course of the game she taught me how to use my shovel and watering can, the proper care of the various plants and animals I would encounter and introduce me to some of the other helpful inhabitants of the island.
In the first hour of play my garden was transformed through my diligent scrolling and button tapping. My shovel turned the soil into rich fertile soil, where I planted green grass and a few colorful flowers donated to me by the generous, but seed obsessed, Seedos. As the garden came to life with plant life, various pinatas liked what they saw in the garden and would visit occasionally, even take up residence if the place was nice enough.
The first pinata who decided to call my garden home was a little orange worm, called a whirlm, attracted to all the soil I had. He would roll and crawl around to check out the garden and it looked like my gardening work was beginning to pay off. Noticing the candy-filled worm crawling about, a bird called a sparrowmint was my next resident. An ecosystem was being made!
Experience points are rewarded for every new type of plant you plant or pinata you have visit or decide to stay. Gain enough experience and you'll be rewarded: better gardening tools with the ability to dig holes and ponds with the shovel, a larger garden, new flowers, trees, and bushes become available, and certain pinatas are snobs and only decide to visit the gardens of the most experienced gardeners.
The most challenging, and rewarding, part of being a gardener is pinata romancing. Remember my little orange worms? Leafos informed me that once I had attracted two worms to the garden I would have to romance them to get more. Just like pinatas have requirements to come to your garden, you'll have to fulfill their romance requirements as well. The orange whirlms only needed a home to call their own to get their romance juices flowing. A whirlm house was just a few button clicks away as another of the island's helpers constructed the habitat for me. After directing my two whirlms to romance, I had to complete a mini-game to make the romance successful. It was a simple maze game that must be navigated while avoiding the angry red bombs that make up the walls of the maze. Along the way my pinata Romeo picked up a few coins along the way to fill my coffers. The whirlm maze is easy but as you try to romance the pinatas you attract later in the game the bombs in the mazes will begin to move, or even become invisible.
Soon the helper Storkos delivered my first baby whirlm. Experience points were rewarded. Romance enough of the same pinata and I achieved the rank of "Master Romancer" and won even more experience. The sparrowints were slightly more difficult to romance. After having a house, they each needed to eat a whirlm to create a baby sparrowmint. The romancing becomes more difficult as the garden grows as resources like plants and pinatas are required to fulfill romance requirements but the garden can only hold so many things before I needed to get rid of an object to put in a new one. Juggling the different species of plants and pinatas soon became a necessary skill.
The liquidation of assets is where the shopkeeper helper comes in handy. Buying and selling seeds, produce, garden tools, and pinatas is done using chocolate coins. At first I felt guilty selling my pinatas that I had spent so much time romancing, but when that birdbath and glowing rock would look perfect in that corner of my garden under the apple tree, it was time to clear out the old whirlms and welcome whole new variates of pinata to my garden.
That would not be the last time I played around with some whirlms. Feeding pinatas different plants, or other pinatas, can turn them into whole new species. A breed of green butterfly is only possible to attain if you feed a white butterfly a green flower. Each kind of pinata has three secret varieties to discover, so the combinations you can try are endless.
It wasn't always sunny skies and sweet candy in the garden though; soon sour pinatas were attracted to my corner of the island. Bright red with big pointy teeth, sour pinatas love nothing better than to tear up plants or hack up sour candy that makes pinatas sick if they eat it, and trust me, pinatas eat anything that's brightly colored.
Now enough of the tourist brochure, time for the details. Brightly colored cartoon creatures and Dolby 5.1 surround sound make Viva Pinata a delight even if you are not the person holding the controller. Unfortunately the multiplayer element is slightly lacking. Through Xbox Live you are able to send parcels filled with goodies (or baddies) to your friends as well as compare the value of your garden and pinatas. It would have been nice to have a co-op gardening mode or the ability to show off your paper mache menagerie and green thumb to your friends.
Any age or gender can enjoy Viva Pinata. Children will get a kick out of the pinatas cartoon antics, while the more mature gamer will enjoy the complete freedom to design and explore as they feel fit. Highly recommended.