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A Great Game, Not Just for Kids
on November 20, 2006
In Viva Pinata you have inherited a garden in a fantasy world populated by living pinatas and an assortment of odd characters. Your mission is to build your garden to attract pinatas to live there. Everything you grow in your garden, including the pinatas, vegetables, flowers, and trees, can be sold for chocolate coins. You can use the coins to buy more seeds and grow more plants or to otherwise improve your garden. Viva Pinata is like a cross between Pokemon and The Sims and virtual pets, but I found that the result is greater than the sum of its parts!
This is a sandbox game of the best sort. You can make whatever decisions you want to and your garden can look however you want. You have the ability to dig ponds, grow grass, build houses for your pinatas, and all sorts of other activities that I am still discovering several hours into the experience. The decisions you make about how your garden develops will determine the kind of pinata who want to live there. The open-ended nature of the game is its best feature, and it really makes you feel like you are in control of the game's environment. The feeling of empowerment that kids receive playing Viva Pinata is enhanced by the excitement of constantly finding new things to do and play with.
I am impressed that a game that is so easy for kids to pick up is also so complex. My daughter is nine and was familiar with the controls and basic concepts within a half-hour. Yet the underlying concepts of the game are complicated. The skills I see her working on in this game primarily have to do with resource management, which as we adults know is critical for daily life. You have a limited amount of space for your garden (just like in real life), yet if you are not organized in your approach then the garden will quickly become a place of chaos. Kids will also learn the concepts of working to make money and how to budget for the next big item they need to improve their garden.
As other reviewers have stated, this looks like a game for kids, but it will suck an adult into its world just as easily. I couldn't wait for my kids to go to sleep the first night so I could start on my own garden. Time is greatly accelerated in the game, and the result is that you are very busy - you may suddenly look up from the game and see that a few hours have passed in the real world almost as quickly. The pinata are just the right amount of cute so that they are fun to watch, not annoying. There is no lull in the action for at least a few hours, at which time you may have been able to hire some helpers to take off some of the pressures of a big garden, such as watering and gathering your sellable items. This too is a good introduction to kids of the concept of people management. Lots of times you have to tell your helpers what to do, rather than just letting them do their own thing. Otherwise, their priority list is typically different from yours and those plants that you just planted may die because your helper was busy watering something less important.
Viva Pinata has way too much to offer to cover it all in such a short review. The environment is incredibly well done, from the sounds to the graphics. The game play is very addictive. Playing Viva Pinata actually got me excited to go out and do lawn work in the back yard! For parents wondering if this game is suitable for their kids, I will say that I am picky about what I let my kids watch and play and there is nothing here which offends me. There are all sorts of euphemisms around breeding pinatas (they call it "romancing") that sound very innocent but will make the adult chuckle. It is very tastefully done. And there is no doubt that your kids will be using their brains a lot more while playing this game than while playing the typical platform-style kids game. This is exactly the kind of game I was looking for to provide my kids with an enriching, non-violent video game experience. If Viva Pianta is an indication of the future of kids video games then the future is very promising.