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Viva Pinata
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Viva Pinata

(Microsoft; Xbox 360)

GAMER When I grabbed Viva Piñata at the store, I hoped the game would inspire my Xbox 360 to a greatness beyond its current status as a sleek, expensive bookend that plays DVDs. Viva Pinata's premise might be described as Pokemon: Capitalist Edition — you are a pinata farmer in charge of creating a garden that will attract a multitude of brightly colored pinatas, which you will have to tend and breed in a totally G-rated way. You make money from selling the rarer, more valuable piñatas.

I'll be honest: my interest in this game was piqued when someone told me you could whack the Whirm pinatas with a shovel and feed their candy viscera to the Sparrowmint pinatas. We need more of that sort of content in children's games.

The game play is most reminiscent of SimCity: you must satisfy the requirements of your potential citizens to entice them to move in and stay. Once your population gets large, chaos ensues. You plow your garden, and once you have nice soil, a Whirm pinata moves in. These are soon followed by Sparrowmints. But why doesn't my bird pinata eat my worm pinata? After about five tries, my Sparrowmint flew off toward my worm and ate it. This lack of responsiveness sadly plagues Viva Pinata. Actions fail and give you no indication why. At other times the game generates an ominous err-err noise and doesn't indicate why it made the sound or refocus on the problem piñata. You have to search over your large garden of piñatas to find the one that was poisoned or got in a fight.

When your pinatas inevitably start fighting, you'll find there's no way to break them up except to whack or spray them. Your pinatas sicken if they lose a fight, get wet, or are smacked. If you don't build fences, you'll spend most of your time calling the doctor, yet building fences is nearly impossible. The analog control is terrible — it will fail to fence areas such as untilled land but won't tell you why. Getting your pinatas behind the fence is another trial — there aren't any gates, and the game doesn't pause while you're fencing. You have to herd them into the area you want to fence, and half the time they wander off while you're building.

After about two days of playing this game, I got frustrated and sold it. The controls were awkward and unintuitive — reprehensible in an adult game but inexcusable in a kids' one. The game play felt buggy and broken. Since this is the only real children's title for Xbox 360, I can't completely dis it. But your kids, being smarter and more patient than both you and me, will probably enjoy it a lot more than you will. (Kea Johnston)

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