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Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

There was a time when Rare ruled the video game world. With a library stretching all the way back to 1983, the idea factory behind Donkey Kong Country, Golden Eye and Conker’s Bad Fur Day hasn’t done much with the current generation of consoles save for a mediocre update to the Perfect Dark name and a platformer that fell fairly flat on the Xbox 360’s launch day in 2005.

The only inkling of Rare’s once-renowned pool of creativity came with Viva Piñata. A garden simulation based on a Saturday morning cartoon, Viva Piñata combined the gotta’ catch ‘em all mantra of Pokemon with the Future Farmers of America attitude of Harvest Moon to create a title that drew casual gamers and OCD-ridden players alike.

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Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise comes two years later as the follow-up all twelve original fans were waiting for. Featuring the same colorful, lively take on the simulation genre as it’s predecessor, Trouble in Paradise touts itself as a true sequel but instead comes off as nothing more than a candy-coated copy, a reminder that Rare’s golden touch is long gone.

“Trouble in Paradise touts itself as a true sequel but instead comes off as nothing more than a candy-coated copy.”The Viva Piñata series incorporates a number of different gameplay elements, but really just boils down to being a larger scale version of a virtual pet. Players are given the freedom to mold the world around them in hopes of attracting wild piñatas, who then can be tamed, decorated, bred, or sold for profit. Trouble in Paradise does nothing to deter from this concept, but instead adds gameplay quirks that begrudgingly nudge the player towards a particular end.

Rare has camouflaged gameplay stalls as “exciting new features” with Trouble in Paradise, tacking on an extremely simple plot as a basis for the additions. In a nutshell, the database of all piñatas has been deleted, and it is up to the player to collect the island’s inhabitants in the name of science. The lead-in story isn’t bad in itself, as plot shouldn’t be a major point with a game of this type, but instead of being treated as a jumping point for a new take on the structure of the series it instead results in two forgettable feature additions: piñata games and piñata goals.

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Piñata Games is a new feature that borrows from the lackluster fill-in title Viva Piñata: Party Animals. Players are given the chance to pit their pets against competitor pinatas in judging contests and races, which in itself sounds like a noteworthy add-on. Unfortunately, this mode is completely unfulfilling and in the end is nothing more than a distraction from the rest of the game.

Piñata goals come from the vendor Langston, one of the many colorful characters who inhabit the world of Viva Piñata. Speaking with Langston opens a number of challenges the player can take on, and completing said challenges results in achievements and cash. Unfortunately, every challenge is exactly the same: Tame a particular piñata, feed it enough candy to make it happy, and then ship it out. Wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve cycled through the entire bestiary.

Neither mode is particularly bad in any sense, they’re just unnecessary and fail to pull attention away from the beef of the game. While Langston’s challenges press players to capture particular types of piñatas, it feels like a prodding poke in a particular direction when Trouble in Paradise tends to work better as a free-flowing experiment in animal husbandry.

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Unfortunately, while the concept behind luring piñatas into one’s garden hasn’t changed much, Rare managed to add yet more unnecessary elements to an already acceptable system.

One of the major selling points for Trouble in Paradise was the addition of winter and desert environments, as well as animals particularly suited to said surroundings. While Rare did deliver on this new feature, the implementation of icy and sandy climates leaves much to be desired.

“The implementation of icy and sandy climates leaves much to be desired.”To find piñatas of certain mediums players must trek to wholly different areas and lay traps. Should a trap capture a particular piñata, players then mail the mobile prison to themselves and release the untamed animal in the main garden. Aside from being tedious and systematic to a fault, this mechanic goes far beyond frustrating as traps don’t work half the time and end up being a colossal waste of money. This addition ends up over complicating a very simple premise, breaking players away from the main garden and more-than-not resulting in a broken trap and no piñata to show for it.

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The remainder of Trouble in Paradise remains unchanged from the first Viva Piñata. The original stock of piñatas return along with 28 additions, more items and plants are available as players move up the ladder, and new co-op and “Just For Fun” modes are a pleasant addition but don’t do much to draw attention away from the game’s main mode. A complete re-hash of the previous game’s character dialogue only detracts from the idea that this is anything more than a disc of downloadables.

Like many sequels, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise excels at adding additional content to an already workable premise, but fails at properly expanding on the core experience beyond the original. While a smattering of new features were added along with a heaping helping of new piñatas to sight, tame and mate, I feel like I’m playing the exact same game I invested 80+ hours into two years ago.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2008.

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