Thursday, March 8, 2007

Viva Piñata (Xbox 360)

I usually wait until after I finish a game before I review it. But I'm pretty sure that Viva Piñata doesn't have an end. I guess the closest thing would be getting all the achievement points. But given all the other games I have going on right now (ahem, new Wii), I don't think that's happening any time soon. So I'm going to jump the gun and tell you what I think now instead of later.

Viva Piñata received a lot of critical acclaim (links: GameSpy, GameSpot, GameFly), and with good reason. It's a charming game with adorable graphics and compelling gameplay. It's hard to stop playing Piñata once you've started, because there's always something to do in your garden. Advancing through the game and discovering all the creatures is genuinely fun. But there's something about it that's just... off.

The thing that initially confused (and disturbed) me about Viva Piñata is that despite all the cute creatures with personalization options, this is not a game about enjoying your piñatas. It's about getting over attachments. You start the game intuitively caring a lot for your individual piñatas. But to advance in the game you need to grow heartless and start selling of your piñatas and feeding them to other Piñatas. You quickly learn to not get too attached to your piñatas because eventually you're going to have to do away with them. Don't bother spending money to buy a cute hat for your Newtgat, because half an hour later you're going to be feeding him to that Badgesicle that just moved in. And definitely don't stop to give him a name - just keep it at "Newtgat 2" so that it's easier to say goodbye. As a game that's targeted at kids (with it's own Saturday morning cartoon and everything), that underlying message is kinda disturbing.

But hey, I can't be too harsh. Because even as I'm sitting here preparing to retire Viva Piñata to the shelf for awhile, I kinda still wish I was playing it. My memories are filled with delightful moments of coaxing new creatures to join my garden and rejoicing when they finally decide to stay. But somehow my brain has blocked out all those other memories… like when I was too slow to call the doctor and my piñata died from some crazy candy fever… or when I had to put down my first Raisant because he picked a fight with everybody… or when garden filled up and I had to sell off entire species to make room for some new hotness…

Damn. It's a wonder I don't curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep after playing this game.

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