In their quirky god game Doshin the Giant, the orange behemoth seems perpetually happy as he wanders around the land, absorbing the love of local villagers. His smile would surely slip, however, if he realized that if he manages to complete his quest and build enough monuments to satisfy the gods, the island he's been toiling on would be destroyed and slip forever under the sea.

Think about the poor islanders for a bit. If they overlook the fact that there's a giant novelty creature that wouldn't look out of place in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade constantly restructuring and reshaping their landscape, accept that they need to build bizarre tributes to the creature (because after all, what else would you do for a jaundiced version of the Incredible Hulk?), and raise their children to worship the freakish thing, too, it'll all be for nothing because they're going to get wiped out in the end. We're talking Shakespearian levels of tragedy here, perhaps bordering on biblical. Even when Doshin morphs into his evil alter-ego, his fixed grin remains. And don't even get me started on the "love makes me bigger, but then in the morning I'm normal sized" thing again.

Viva Piñata is sold as a garden simulator, but my garden has never been used to explain in quick succession sex, birth and death to small children. Well, hardly ever. There's a genuine feeling of joy the first time you attract some worms (sorry, "whirlms") into your garden. They're adventurers. Innovative, brave little things that are willing to explore new ground even though you're probably spending most of your time whacking it with a spade. When you first get them to do their romance dance, you feel like a god among men.


Yet before too long, these romantic, brave creatures that were bold enough to be the first ones to venture onto your patch of earth become food for bigger, better piñata. They're not ambassadors anymore: They're snacks. It's like Christopher Columbus reporting back from his voyage to an uninhabited (OK, almost uninhabited) new world, and being turned into hamburger for his trouble. Don't worry about Manhunt making kids go nuts. Wait 15 years and see what the Viva Piñata generation thinks is normal in relationships. Things will get messy.

It's Mario that typifies the darkest kind of happiness, however. Really, how happy can he be each time he finally rescues the Princess when part of his brain knows that it's just a matter of time before the careless matriarch will be snapped up again by Bowser? It must be tempting to pack it all in and go back to a career as a plumber. And you know that your current vocation must be bad if wading through sewage seems like a more tempting alternative. The start of Mario Kart should, by rights, look very different. If the Princess felt one iota of gratitude, the second the race started she'd career around the track knocking every other driver out of the way to let Mario scream past. But she doesn't. Suddenly, cross-fecal contamination doesn't seem that bad a career hazard.

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