Toward the end of the day yesterday, we hit up the Microsoft [strike]booth[/strike] [strike]moon[/strike] space station. Of course, we stopped in to chat about Viva Pi? with Justin Cook from Rare.

Sitting in the front of a small, heavily air-conditioned, heavily soundproofed room with a huge HDTV, Justin introduced himself casually as we took our seats. A bit of convention floor small talk later, he booted up a 360 dev kit and started talking shop.

A cartoony gardening game, where your landscaping decisions attract different types of pi?-themed animals, the game answers the question: “If Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing had a baby, what would it look like?” It’s a damn cute kid, and it’s got a lot of personality. It might be the best thing to happen to gardening since the garden gnome.

Cook showed us a newbie garden, not yet touched by a green thumb. It’s a complete disaster area – there’s no fresh soil, no grass, and rocks and broken lawn ornaments litter the yard. You’re greeted by a tiny humanoid who tosses you a shovel about as dilapidated as your garden, and you’re tasked with tilling up some soil from the dry earth, which you do by dragging the shovel-styled cursor around the screen.

After you’ve tilled a few hundred square feet of soil, your first animal makes its appearance: a highly stylized, black-and-white worm. He’ll play around in the soil you’ve dug up for him, and as you shovel more, he’ll decide whether or not he wants to live in your garden. Assuming he does, he’ll take control of the camera and burst into vibrant color.

Soon, other worms will come along and want to play with your wormy resident, and so will birds, who want to eat the worms. However, you can provide some protection for the little guys by building them a special worm house, where they’ll be able to run, hide, and enter romance mode, in which two worms will fall in love and start making little worms to run around in your soil. It might be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

Cook plans to make use of the Xbox Live, as well, presumably allowing players to trade animals and visit each other’s gardens. Additionally, he wants to utilize the online market store to give gardeners the opportunity to outfit their favorite animals in unique ways beyond what’s already provided in the game’s standard accessories package.

And while worms falling in true, full-color love in my garden and then selling their babies to my friends is cool, what interested me the most was the children’s show, which will be based on a few of animals in the game; they’re actually grabbing the models from the game, souping up the facial structures and personifying them. I can only assume wacky hijinks ensue.

Now that Viva Pi? will be embedding itself into the minds of children everywhere, it seems Microsoft is trying to adopt Nintendo’s “get ’em young” philosophy.

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