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Viva Pinata is the Microsoft brand based around the Spanish Pinata bashing tradition (the one with the paper animals filled with sweets). The original game was released soon after the launch of the 360, and was something of a stake in the ground of their ongoing casual gaming ambitions. The second edition of the game, extends the original experience with a clutch of new features, and again reflects a renewed resolve by Microsoft to court a wider market.
Real time strategy games present the player with a resource rich environment and task them with developing encampments and units more effectively than their enemies. Once created, troops can usually be arranged into groups and directed in real time.
When the player directs an encounter to take , place the comparative stats of vehicles, characters and current landscape are used to calculate the winner. Forest usually makes you harder to hit, whilst tanks do more damage than infantry.
Because of these game's requirement for fast decisions from the player they were originally the preserve of the mouse and keyboard setup of the PC. More recently, intelligent control systems have brought them to home consoles and handhelds.
Viva Pinata is unusual because of its animal breeding and gardening theme. The game contains the resource gathering and developmental aspects of other RTS games, but here it is in the form of growing flowers, vegetables and fruit. These resources are used as bate to attract various animal visitors to the garden. Once they have the appropriate elements in place to become resident, they can then be bred. The final aspect is discovering how to evolve them into different variants by feeding them certain flowers or other animals.
The rarer the plants you grow and the animals that you breed, the more money they can be sold for. Money can then be used to buy special features for the garden, or a range of paper-based Pinata animals that each have special abilities.
Viva Pinata 2: Trouble in Paradise brings to the table some new features. Not least is the new improved cooperative modes. Whereas the original had a dual-controls mode (whereby experienced players could jump in and help out novices by taking control), the new game enables up to four players to garden simultaneously . Two players locally, or four players online, can each control their own cursor and can set about working on the garden.
In addition to the roughly 60 unique Pinatas from the previous title, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise adds 32 new animals. Some of these are only found in the two new areas - Ice and Desert. The game also boasts an improved food chain to ensure there are less dead ends and more nuanced development of creatures.
This is all wrapped up with improved navigation controls (using the left/right bumper buttons to locate creatures makes things a lot less work on its own) and some general graphical cleaning up and improvement.
Gamers usually play Viva Pinata because they are attracted to the idea of growing and breeding their own living garden. The graphics play particularly well to the papercraft Pinata theme, and make the experience one that feels genuinely magical. Attracting and breeding a new animal gives a real sense of achievement. Combine this with the relaxing pace of the game and you have a unique gaming experience.
Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise tweaks rather than re-invents the first game. Players will return to the game if they particularly enjoyed the first edition and are looking for more. But those who missed the first game may prefer to go for the cheaper option of buying the original game.
The game demands a good hour for each session. It takes a while to remember what you were doing in your garden the last time you played. Then you need to make and implement your plans for progression. Being essentially open ended, you can play the game for many hours. Although you will have seen the majority of animals after 20 hours or so, there is always one more thing to try and one more animal to evolve.
Very young players will be able to find their way around their garden, planting flowers watering plants and generally having fun. But the game is really built around the strategy elements that need a little more intuition. They will get most out of the game if there is an adult on hand to assist them via the new improved co-operative mode. Those that find this game a stretch should check out Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise DS.
My five year old just about grasped the basics, but found the garden intruders too un-nerving to continue playing. These 'baddies' come stomping into your little world and will kill your animals if you are not quick enough. This combines with the animal's own fighting and eating of each other to make the game strangely violent - in a natural history kind of way.
Intermediate players appreciate the game's finer points and the detailed gameplay. There is an extensive encyclopedia of each animal, flower and plant that can be looked up. Those wanting a less frantic experience may find Lock's Quest DS to be more their cup of tea. That said, there is plenty here to for anyone who likes to micromanage.
Expert gamers are well catered for by the game's complex food chain and evolution structure. Although it does look a bit childish, there is as much to do here as in any darker war-themed RTS. It remains to be seen just how many varieties of each animal are available in this edition, and how flexibly they can be bred. It will be telling to see if online communities spring up to provide hints and tips for their creation, as was the case on the original 360 game.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: