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Viva Piñata

(Microsoft; US: 9 Nov 2006)

Dear Diary,

Day 1:


I desperately need help—my virtual Viva Piñata garden looks like absolute hell. The soil is rocky and hard, there are pieces of trash and rubble strewn everywhere and the grass is so patchy it looks like the Chicago Bears played a game on my garden grounds last week. To make matters worse, the only tools to my disposal are a rusty old shovel and a leaky watering can and I don’t see any sign of a Home Depot. If this polite leaf-wearing hippie girl Leafos hadn’t been giving me helpful hints, the EPA may have condemned this land last week.



Day 2:


My hardy Protestant work ethic seems to have paid big dividends. Though it may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing method (looking back, I probably should have watched more HGTV with my grandmother as a kid), I mashed the harsh soil in the garden—which I named Fruitopia by the way—with my shovel until I could plant some fresh grass. This was apparently enough greenery to attract my first piñata -– a squiggly little worm I elected to name Willy because I have an alliteration fetish. Willy seems as happy as a worm can be, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Just don’t expect the Hanging Gardens of Babylon anytime soon.



Day 3:


This may sound odd, but I think Willy just made sweet, sweet invertebrate love to my other worm pet –- Wilma. How do I know this? Well, two red hearts popped up in bubbles over their heads, so I directed them to go on what turned out to be a blind date. They soon burst into some spontaneous dance and crawled into their little worm house to groove to some sort of instrumental Barry White-ish love ballad inexplicably playing on a jukebox inside. I was then directed to a mini-game where I led one of the worms through a worm-shaped maze filled with bombs and coins so that this bizarre date could be consummated. If worm sex is this dangerous and difficult, I’m not sure why they bother. But hey, what happens in Viva Piñata stays in Viva Piñata. At any rate, this encounter led a stork to dump a colorful egg on the home of the happy worm couple. In a few short minutes, young Wonka the worm was born.



Day 4:


Don’t tell Sean Hannity, but I think my two rabbit piñatas might be homosexuals.  I say this because Bugs and Roger just performed the love dance and then started watching Will & Grace Season 3 on DVD. Just kidding. Actually, the rabbits appear to have no distinguishable sexual characteristics—I just gave them masculine names because I couldn’t think of any female bunny names at the time. At any rate, the stork dropped by a bunny egg and it should hatch soon. I guess the idea of a candy-filled animal piñata reproducing via live birth was just a little too weird, even for this game.



Day 5:


If Adam in The Bible really was in charge of naming all the animals in the Garden of Eden, I could understand why he ate the apple to piss off God. I, for one, can no longer force myself to name the animals in my virtual garden –- the emotional toll is just too great. In just a few short days in Fruitopia, Willy was gulped up by a hungry sparrow, his widowed mate Wilma got sick and died after consuming a piece of poison candy, and their tiny son Wonka was murdered in cold blood by an evil piñata that looks like a bat.


It’s much easier to stomach the death of a piñata named Buzzlegum12 than the knowledge that my friend Buzz Aldrin the Bee was exploded in the night, causing his delicious candy innards to be flung to the ends of the garden. On a side note, it’s also a little disturbing that some of the other piñatas rushed over to eat the remains of the bee’s body. But then again, the game warns that this is part of the Doughnut of Life. Does this mean Elton John has the copyright on the Circle?



Day 6:


I just hired my first employee, a young Gatherling I opted to name Gertrude. And in case you’re wondering, yes, her paperwork is all in order and she’s not an illegal. Plus, I’m paying her almost 1,000 coins to collect fruit and vegetables and sell them at the market for a profit, so I can’t be accused of being a cheapskate employer either. Granted, in this game, the money is chocolate wrapped in foil, but beggars can’t be choosers and the job market’s tight in Fruitopia.



Day 7:


I have become what I hate. I just sold three of my resident piñatas—piñatas I bred, raised and nurtured: a moth, an ant, and a squirrel—so that I could buy a cat at the village. Am I no different from the cruel farmer in Charlotte’s Web? And then, as if I didn’t feel bad enough, my poor frog Frogger slowly died because I could not afford his healthcare fees –- the piñata doctor refused to come unless I paid him up front. I guess I should have started this garden in Canada for universal health care reasons, though I’m not sure if amphibians would receive coverage. I tried to hold a small memorial service, but one of my snakes is fighting an ant and I must try to break it up one way or another.



Day 8:


Things are really going well now. I hit level 10, got a brand new shovel, and my garden expanded in size.


I’ve been having a lot of fun in Rare’s ecosystem simulation so far, though sometimes it seems like I’m overwhelmed with things to keep track of. There isn’t much of a plot; Viva Piñata is a classic do-what-you-want-at-your-own-pace sandbox game. Overall, Viva Piñata is visually impressive and innovative, but I also wonder what kind of audience it is intended for. Beneath the shiny happy veneer of the game’s cartoony graphics and cutesy garden setting lies a sometimes frustrating hardcore sim where you may kill animals with a shovel or sell off others for a profit.


Is it for kids or for adults? I’ll let you know after I stop this stinking badger from eating my entire cash crop.

Rating:

Ryan Smith is a writer/journalist who recently moved back to Illinois after living in Missouri and Los Angeles for the past decade. A Land of Lincoln (Springfield, IL) native, Ryan won several local and state journalism awards in his five years as a news reporter in central Missouri. His freelance work has appeared in publications such as Relevant Magazine, Vox, and Escape. Ryan has penned multimedia reviews and features for PopMatters since 2005.


Tagged as: rare | viva piñata
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