Because all the animals are interconnected through this chain, multitasking different skills and keeping an eye on all your inhabitants to make sure that they are alright is a constant challenge. The struggle to keep all these elements in balance means that you continually find yourself falling back to the Whirlm to gain cash - your demand for garden furniture, housing and items generally far outstrips available funding.
Time and time again you'll find yourself becoming distracted trying to organise one thing, only to be sidetracked by another task entirely in order to make your original purpose - or purchase - possible. Things aren't helped by the camera. The overhead map is elevated too far to make out individual Piņata problems, and by the time the garden expands there's simply too much ground to cover using the closer camera to track everything efficiently. Want to sort out a ruckus or to save one of your Piņatas from being eaten by a wild creature? There are no arrows pointing you to a Piņata quarrel, so you usually only witness the aftermath - the exploded Piņata's sweet-lined innards spread across the garden. It's especially frustrating when the deceased Piņata is one you'd been setting up for mating, but at least your progress is saved up to that point, and the garden repopulates automatically - so long as that type of Piņata has lived there once before.
Similarly, all manner of Sour creatures that randomly invade your garden can kill your Piņatas long before you've time to intervene - so it pays to watch out for them. What should be a relaxed gameplay experience feels as stressful as regular working life - juggling the demands of garden and Piņatas clashes violently with the cartoony and friendly exterior.
However, by revolving the game around a subtle blend of garden design and wildlife observation, a quick five-minute digging exercise for a new pond evolves into an evening's redesign of the garden's layout, as you mentally project where that white fence will dissect the vegetable and flower patch once you've got the funds, while quietly making soothing noises to a curious Deer that's standing at the edge of your garden, hoping it'll wander in. It makes for such a difference from shooting Locust hordes or powersliding that you'll revel in its uniqueness even as it sinks into your brain. It's like being a zookeeper in charge of baby animals, but loads more fun!
There's no Xbox Live game to speak of, although you can send Piņatas as presents to anyone on your Friends List. It's just as much fun to send them a crate full of Sour pinatas! We'd have liked to see more of a buying and selling element included, because that would give you more reason to try out this mode. Kids can be quite mercenary, and few want to give away something for nothing!
As it is, there's enough to keep you occupied when gardening alone. There's always something to do on your plot of land, and it'll be a long time before you encounter every species of Piņata and see everything this bright colourful world has to offer. Viva Piņata is a great way to gather the family around the Xbox 360 and introduce younger players - but chances are you'll end up fighting over who gets to put on a pair of wellies and gets their hands dirty.
A cute but stressful creature-carer
- Real character to Pinatas
- Controls neatly mapped
- Unlike anything else on the Xbox 360
- Dedication needed to fully enjoy
- No quickfire Pinata finder