Hey, didn't I play this game two years ago?
Though Rare is now a subsidiary of the Microsoft Corporation, they have continued to create games for Nintendo's handheld systems. Rare's latest game, unlike many earlier handheld offerings, does not continue an intellectual property born on a Nintendo system. Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise builds on the franchise that was recently established on the Xbox 360 and on television.
Pocket Paradise is essentially a straight port of the original Viva Piñata title on the Xbox 360, with a few minor tweaks including a few new piñatas, the playground, and episode modes. This turns out to be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to the final product.
The core of Pocket Paradise has gamers tending to an abandoned garden. The garden, once full of life, is now devoid of it. In order to generate interest from the local piñatas, players must perform a variety of tasks, the most basic and first of which is cleaning up the garbage-filled garden. Completion of this chore will attract players' first piñata visitor, a Whirlm. Upon receiving a visitor, players will be given another task (or tasks) to help persuade the piñata to call your garden its permanent home. In the case of the Whirlm, players must build it a home, a common requirement to make a piñata a permanent resident.
From here, players must start mating the piñatas who reside in their garden. This too will carry a set of tasks in order to get them to breed. In some cases, the tasks need only be completed once for unlimited mating to occur (even inbreeding!); however, others will require motivation each time they mate. Sparrowmints, for instance, will need to eat a Whirlm each time they intend to mate.
As players move past the beginning tedium, the game's depth presents itself. Players must balance maintenance of their garden (growing flowers, vegetables, maintaining piñata houses and pathways), caring for piñatas (making sure they are healthy, keeping living conditions amicable, separating them from predator piñatas inside and out of the garden), and attracting new piñatas to the garden. This balancing act can be quite addicting, but it is mostly micromanagement, so players opposed to such play won't be enamored.
Those who choose to stick around will find that, although the game is addicting, it can become quite frustrating at times. Certain piñatas will attack others in the garden unprovoked, which often times ends up in the eradication of a single species. Sour piñatas, Dastardos, and Ruffians can be equally frustrating. Often times they are not dealt with quickly enough due to the bevy of other concerns and in the meantime can decimate a piñata population or your garden.
Restructuring the garden can also be an annoyance. Unfortunately, piñata homes can not be picked up and moved with relative ease so they must be either sold or destroyed and rebuilt in a new location. This design decision doesn't seem to make much sense, as the player is granted more garden space as he or she attracts more piñatas thus requiring garden restructuring. The tedious and costly process never ceases to frustrate each time the garden expands.
Far more frustrating than any other factor is the way the game completely overwhelms you as the garden expands to its maximum size. With so much going on, it is nearly impossible to save all of your piñatas. Often times piñatas you invested significant time into attracting and housing will be destroyed in the midst of the confusion, and players are left with only the tedious task of hoping the piñata (again) randomly makes its way into the garden.
In spite of its flaws, Pocket Paradise is still an enjoyable experience, and one that is clearly improved by the control scheme provided by the DS. Being able to use the stylus to navigate the garden while having a variety of stats available on the second screen is fantastic. Of course, the stunning visuals of the 360 version have been excised in the DS port; however, they still prove impressive in their isometric form on the DS. Players with only a DS "Phat" at their disposal might want to take note that things can at times be tough to see on the dimmer screens, but with ample light, it shouldn't be an issue.
The game also maintains its catchy jingles and sound prompts from the 360 version, helping to further the familiar tone and feeling of the game. Finally, the connectivity features of the 360 title were also preserved for the DS release, allowing for players to trade piñatas via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
Overall, Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise is an enjoyable experience, though clearly flawed in the same way its source material was flawed. Anyone who already has Viva Piñata on the Xbox 360 would be best steering clear of Pocket Paradise, as they are in for the same experience, only on a smaller screen. Those who haven't, don't be fooled by its sweet-as-candy presentation: this is a simulation title packed with strategy. Those who don't mind micromanagement would be well-suited picking up the slightly improved, portable version of the Xbox 360 classic.