Blue Planet

Blue Planet
Garden of Brutality

Ryan Lambie | 20 Apr 2010 13:40
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You start small. Presented with little more than a shovel and a packet of grass seeds, it's your job to take a tiny patch of scrubland - overgrown, full of stones and bits of old tin - and turn it into lush, thriving garden. From these unusually mundane opening moments (which must rank among the least promising in videogame history), Viva Piñata gradually opens into something far deeper and more engaging. When the soil is prepared and the seeds sown, the first animals begin to visit. Worms arrive first, attracted by your freshly dug pasture.


You gradually ascend a ladder of increasingly exotic new species, where nurturing the lower orders attracts animals higher up the food chain. Just as worms attract sparrows, growing carrots attracts rabbits which in turn attract foxes, while digging a pond draws in waterfowl and amphibians.

Before long, you're managing a garden teeming with life and activity, learning which animals can co-exist peacefully without eating or fighting one another, all while keeping a watchful eye on your borders for Sour Piñata, the wild animals that frequently invade your garden and cause mayhem.

Rare may have been cunning enough to sugar-coat its themes of reproduction and death with its whimsical presentation, but their presence is key to Viva Piñata's gameplay. Sex is euphemistically termed "romancing," and each species of animal has its own specific set of requirements which must be fulfilled to encourage them to breed. Sparrows, for example, must be fed two worms and have their own house, while more advanced species, such as elephants or deer, have more obscure requirements which are trickier to attain (bizarrely, pigeons must be purchased a camera accessory before they'll reproduce).

Perhaps understandably for a game aimed at children, the act of reproduction is one of the few areas where Viva Piñata diverges noticeably from natural reality. Upon the completion of an incongruous Pac-Man influenced mini-game (and an even more curious "romance dance" victory cutscene), newborn piñatas will, regardless of their species, hatch from eggs.

But if the depiction of breeding is less than accurate, the presence of death in Viva Piñata is ever-present and uncompromising, and the game even has its own Grim Reaper in the spectral form of the piñata-killing witch doctor Dastardos, and takes great pleasure in breaking a sick piñata with his stick. The fragility of life, meanwhile, can be seen everywhere: Without water, plants wither and perish, fallen fruit rots, and without a vet, sick animals will die.

In a medium where pet simulation games are often only slightly more convincing than a Tamagotchi, Viva Piñata's animals are unique in their personality and behavior, and even the most icy-hearted gamer can become attached to them. The sudden and unexpected death of one of your animals - a crocodile perhaps, who you've tamed, named Gucci and lovingly adorned with a gold tooth and eye patch - evokes an outpouring of genuine sadness.

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