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Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise

Addiction is a wonderfully obscure problem. It’s a problem that at the time feels fantastic, even though you know it’s not doing you any favours. In a game, should we be applauding its addictive nature or condoning it? If a game is addictive then surely that can only be a good thing? Well, in Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise you’re bound to get quite hooked, as its rewarding nature insists you do. While it won’t last you the full nine yards, and is likely to frustrate on a few levels, you’ll certainly enjoy your time in ‘Paradise’.

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Acting as a portable companion to the newly released console counterpart Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, Pocket Paradise is incredibly successful in giving you the console experience watered down on the small screen. It may not have all the options and longevity of its bigger brother, but it’s just as much fun.

Right from the off the graphics grab you and never let go, with some impressively vibrant colours that just fly off the DS’s screen. The 360 version was always heralded for its insanely cute and colourful Piñatas, and the transition to the DS is near perfect, save some slightly simplistic animation on the Piñata’s behalf. It’s a shame that they aren’t more lively so to make things a little more personal, most likely as a result of the limitations of the DS. Nevertheless, the visuals are more than functional, and with some neat weather effects and slick FMVs, it’s certainly a lot more attractive than the average DS game. The action on screen is perhaps too close, which makes for a lot of scrolling around that can become arduous, but not so much as to prove much of a problem.

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You’d be fooled into thinking there’s not a lot of gameplay to be had from Pocket Paradise, thanks to the three options you’ll be presented with from the start; ‘Garden’, ‘Playground’ and ‘Episodes’. ‘Garden’ and ‘Playground’ are essentially the same games, with the latter more for experimentation and temporary fun. Most if not all of your time will be spent in the addictive ‘Garden’, where you start from the very beginning, with an area of dirt, some grass seeds, a shovel and a watering can. Before you know it you’ll be making ponds, growing apple trees and building Pretzail houses. Throughout your gardening career you’ll unlock new episodes to play through, which introduce you to new concepts such as making fertiliser, or changing the colour of certain piñatas, and these can be replayed in the aforementioned ‘Episodes’ option.

The game eases you into things fairly well, with some involving tutorial videos and hints. It’s a daunting title from the start as you’re given a lot to think about, but everything soon becomes second nature, thanks mainly to the intuitive control scheme, which utilises the touch screen fantastically well. Around the screen is a set of buttons that combine to make doing things in the game quick and easy, from watering to buying from the shop, everything is within two touches away; waiting around is not an option. There are almost no qualms to be had with the controls, with just the ability to alter scrolling speed the only thing missing.

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Essentially, there’s no real goal to the game; it’s up to you to decide what needs to be done to properly ‘finish’. In a similar vein to titles such as Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, you’re free to progress as you like, with there being no real goal to attend to. As you do more things with your garden, more piñatas will come, and your ‘gardening completion’ stat will increase, albeit very slowly. There’s a lot of depth to Pocket Paradise, and when you think you’ve done a lot to your garden, you need only look at your completion percentage to realise there’s a whole lot more to do. It’s a game that rewards you when you put the hours in, and with a section of it devoted entirely to ‘rewards’, there’s always something to aim for, even if it’s not immediately obvious. There are over twenty certificates to earn, among detailed tables of your progress with flowers and the like, as well as a neat ‘piñata pyramid’, which shows how many you’ve encountered. This emphasis on reward definitely adds a lot of incentive to plug on with the game, working much like the 360’s achievement system. Some could say the rewards take too long a time to attain, as they’re a rare sight – especially at the beginning, but if you like to spend upwards of ten hours on a game then this point won’t trouble you.

These rewards, amongst many other things such as new residents, piñata fights and romancing all appear on the top screen’s mini feed, which tells you of all the happenings in your garden. As well as this, you receive alerts regarding specific events. You’ll always be aware of what’s going on in your garden; it’s a well designed system.

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The gameplay works in much the same way as the console versions, where your main objective is to try and get the many piñatas that visit your garden to reside, and eventually mate, or ‘romance’. There are different requirements for every piñata, with them starting off easy enough (eat a flower, for instance), but soon becoming quite time consuming. This type of gameplay is deliciously addictive, but there are many times when frustration kicks in – for example if your piñatas become ill, it’s costly to cure them before they’re taken by death. It’s things like this that can make you hate Pocket Paradise, and there are a lot of times when the solution to your unbearable problem is just a click away, without you even knowing there was one in the first place. All said however, there are times when everything just works, and for those times there’s an electric thrill to be had that’s unmatched, where your options are aplenty, and your garden looks a treat – fantastic. One could say the way the game works means your gardens will often look shoddy and out of place, as if you’re just doing things for the sake of progression and not caring about presentation. This is true to the extent you just want to place things wherever there’s space to reap the rewards, but with careful planning, you can make it as attractive as you wish.

For a title predominantly aimed at children, it’s surprisingly complex. There are a lot of parts of the game to think about, so for children it’s not the best game to stick in their lunchbox. The cutesy characters and charming box art will fool a lot of young people expecting a simple cartoon romp into buying the game when they expected a much simpler romp, but for the teenage side of things, and older gamers still, it’s a great match.

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For handheld gardening on the go, Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise is hard not to recommend. It’s a game that rewards you if you stick with it, and one that you’ll have a hard time leaving. As addictions go, it’s not such a bad problem if you can’t stop playing; at least the piñatas are happy. And when it all comes down to it, isn’t that the only thing that matters?

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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