Fans of Viva Pinata have spent many fruitless hours trying to convince non-believers that there was a genuine game lurking beneath that adorable paper animal exterior. Critics loved it, but 360 owners stayed away in droves, writing off Viva as just another kids’ game connected to a stupid cartoon. As it turns out, they were smart to hold off, because Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise is not just a bigger and better sequel, it’s the game Viva Pinata should have been all along.
The first Pinata was a deep and entertaining experience, almost in spite of itself. A seemingly unending tutorial phase and frequently frustrating controls couldn’t diminish the joy of collecting the colorful and cheerful pinatas that inhabited the game’s sandbox world. Raising paper pets didn’t present the same kind of challengs as beating Halo on Legendary, but taming the unruly pinatas and discovering the game’s secrets was just as satisfying and challenging.
The main objective of Trouble – to cultivate a garden that attracts the charming and colorful piñatas – carries over from the first game, but you’re now also tasked with restoring Pinata Central’s database after Professor Pester accidentally wipes it clean. Getting started in Trouble is far easier than it was in Viva; rather than starting with an abandoned lot filled with cracked earth and debris, you begin in a grass-covered garden complete with flowers, fencing, and one piñata already in residence. You’re even given some start-up cash to help you purchase supplies. Veterans will be pleased at how quickly they can have a viable garden up and running, while newcomers won’t feel bogged down by endless tutorial windows and advice bubbles.
The challenge of Trouble lies in meeting each pinata’s particular requirements for visiting your garden, becoming a resident, and breeding – genteely referred to as “romancing.” Lower level animals might need nothing more than the presence of a certain flower or tree to come calling, but the requirements for more valuable piñatas are far more extensive and complicated. Satisfying all 100 species requires dedication and patience, but the game’s sandbox nature grants you the freedom to collect them all or just specialize in a specific few as you see fit. You’re not stuck to just one garden either, you can – and probably should – keep several running at once. Maintaining multiple gardens isn’t just a fun way to satisfy your creativity, it’s really the only practical way to keep attracting newer, more exotic piñatas.
If you need a break from perfecting your piñata paradise, you can always restore a few records from Piñata Central’s database. Shipping a piñata off to a party adds its information to the computer, though you’ll have to fill up its Candiosity (happiness) meter first, usually by feeding it its favorite foods or teaching it tricks. You can just send off any old happy piñata, but filling requests for specific animals will help you clear challenges and eventually unlock garden items or costume pieces for your pets. If you’re not particularly obsessed with collecting every last item in the game and would rather just putter around the garden, you can simply ignore Pinata Central’s requests – none of the challenge rewards are vital to making progress in Trouble.
Most of the mechanics from the first Viva are still in place, though the more repetitious actions – those that involve growing the trees, bushes, fruits and vegetables that you need to make your garden great – have thankfully been streamlined to make them faster and less tedious. You no longer have to visit the store (and see a loading screen) every time you want to buy seeds or fertilizer; you can now simply bring up an in-garden menu and cycle through your choices with the left and right bumpers. You’ll have a wider variety of seeds to collect and grow this time around, too, giving you even more ways to beautify and customize your own little patch of green.
Not that the patch actually has to be green, though. Two new surfaces, sand and snow, have been added to your repertoire, the better to make the piñatas of the Dessert Desert and Pinarctic feel at home. Use the sand packet to create a beach the Custaceans will love, or cover your garden in snow to craft the perfect home for Penguns and Flapyaks. You’ll have to trap the denizens of the desert and tundra before they’ll deign to visit your garden, but after working so hard to woo piñatas to visit, using a trap feels mean spirited and clunky. Perhaps if it involved some degree of skill, rather than simply placing and baiting a trap, it would be more satisfying.
It’s a minor nitpick in what is otherwise a brilliantly accessible, addictive, and above all else personal game. No one kind of garden is held up as “right” or “ideal,” leaving you free to experiment with any and all of the resources at your disposal. There’s no penalty for completely wiping the slate clean and overhauling your vision, either. Flowers grow in seconds, piñatas and trees grow to maturity in just a few minutes, so as long as you’ve got the money to fund your changes, you can change, rechange, and re-rechange your garden at will. Trouble in Paradise provides goals for players that want them, but they’re suggestions, not commands. Dress your piñatas up, turn them different colors, give them names of all your favorite characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, use them as breeding stock, sell them for profit, feed them to each other, or trap them on an island and watch them cry themselves sick. The fruits of your labors, whatever they may be, arrive frequently enough to provide near-instant gratification no matter what type of gardener you choose to be.
Bottom Line: Trouble in Paradise is the perfect sequel. It smoothes out the rough patches that made Viva Pinatafrustrating and adds loads of new animals, items, and features.
Recommendation: If you enjoyed the first Pinata, picking up Trouble in Paradise is a no-brainer, but get it even if you gave the first game a pass. Yes, it’s cute and kid-friendly, but you’ll be surprised at how satisfying raising those paper animals can be.
Susan Arendt has yet to persuade a Roario to take up residence in her garden, but finally hatched a white Dragonache that she named Jean Claude.