The original Viva Pinata was a favorite of mine. I spent hours and hours getting all the pinata animals to romance each other, like a zoo fertility specialist. I obsessed over the placement of all the plants in my garden like a deranged landscaper. The game had amazing depth, and yet the colorful, whimsical graphics turned off many gamers. My kids loved it, unsurprisingly, but I felt bad that they couldn't play along with me. Imagine my delight when I heard the news of Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise's co-op features.
Before I delve deeper into the co-op, I feel I must mention one of the game's few faults. The core gameplay in VP:TIP feels almost exactly like that of the original game. When I first fired the game up, and fiddled around in my garden, the same familiar events took place: Whirlms appeared first, and were eaten by Sparrowmints , and so on. Granted, there are several new Pinatas, and the desert and arctic locations are a very nice touch. However, it's pretty much the same old same old. Personally, I consider this a good thing, but I know some folks might be disappointed by the lack of innovation in gameplay.
That's not so say, however, that there is no innovation to be found here at all. The interface, one of the biggest gripes people had about the first game, has been tweaked considerably. Tasks that are repeated often are given shortcuts, from pulling out your shovel to buying and planting seeds. The latter, in particular, is a huge time saver. Instead of slogging through the menus, you tap the D-Pad twice, select a seed using the bumpers, and place as many of them as you need. Fertilizer is handled in then same way. You can scroll through all the pinatas in your garden using the same method, which is a tremendous boon. Digging ponds is quicker and easier, too: just set some corners with your shovel, and that's it. All of these improvements make all the routine tasks go much more smoothly. You'll be spending far more time doing what you want, rather than gritting your teeth because you have to wade through lots of menus.
The graphics are improved, as well. Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise is simply gorgeous to look at. The amount of detail on the pinatas is incredible. The water effects are much nicer, and the added weather effects, like snow, are almost mesmerizingly cool. The slowdown that plagued the original is almost nonexistent, even when the autosave kicks in. VP1 was a title I'd pull out to showcase the 360's graphics, and the sequel is even more impressive.
Nice as they are, a few interface enhancements, better visuals, and even the allure of new pinatas aren't really enough to justify purchasing the sequel. It's the addition of co-op, though, that takes VP:TIP to the next level. It seems like such a no-brainer in hindsight, but the addition of more players into the mix makes the game so much more enjoyable. Additionally, the community aspects are well done and a natural fit for the franchise. Being able to check for and then hop into some of the most valuable gardens on Xbox Live, for example, is totally addicting, even when you are just observing. This makes leaderboards and replays seem almost irrelevant.
I spent a couple hours playing local co-op with my oldest son. Needless to say, it was so much more fun than just taking turns with the controller. Both players have access to the menu, and have their own cursor. I was on one end, feeding Whirlms to my Sparrowmints in order to get them in the mood, and he was on the other end, putting down some pavement and keeping an eye on the Pretztail lurking around the edges of the garden. We took turns running our Whirlms through the romance maze. Before we knew it, our first achievement popped up: Couch Socialite, for playing local co-op for an hour. If I were to identify a problem with local co-op, it would be the camera. Depending on how far apart we were, it would zoom in and out almost dizzyingly. This wasn't a huge issue, unless I was doing something delicate. I'd hate to lose a Pinata due to a misclick! ("Whoops! I meant to direct my Pretztail to his romance partner, not that poor ex-Bunnycomb.") Also, if one partner pulls up a menu, it takes up the whole screen. I don't see a way around that, really, but it was a minor annoyance. All told, though, local co-op was a great experience for both of us as we toiled in "our garden".
My first steps into online co-op were tiny ones, joining a few quick matches. I didn't find this to be quite as compelling as the local co-op, mainly due to the restrictions that most wise gardeners place on new visitors. Looking around in another's garden is enjoyable, as I said earlier, but there's not much of a sense of teamwork; it's more like you are messing around in someone else's sandbox. Growing weary of this experience, I set up a meeting with some Co-Optimus folks, to start a garden from scratch and see what all we could do working together from the very beginning.
I met up with Bapenguin first, and later on, Psykoboy2 (of Evil Avatar Radio fame) joined in as well. As host, I allowed my partners full access to the garden, and we just dove right in. I quickly started breeding Bunnycombs, while Bapenguin dug new ponds to attract some Quackberries . We had a grand time, sharing tips and tricks with each other. (I had no idea you could change perspectives during the Romance mazes; it felt like Doom meets Hello Kitty.) Psykoboy did a great job keeping sour Pinatas away, and when my poor reflexes couldn't get the bunnies through the maze anymore, he took over. We ended up breeding a variant Bunnycomb with a funky tail. The whole time, the experience was flowing like crazy. Any award you or your partners earned was shared by all. This made for some very quick leveling; I went from low teens to almost twenty in just under an hour. It was a fantastic experience; I can't wait to try it again, hopefully with a fourth person and a bit larger garden.
This review is pretty long already, and there's so much left to mention. The Pinata cards are nifty, making me want to buy the Xbox camera. I'd love to do more with sending screenshots to the Viva Pinata website. I should mention the game's price: $39.99, a full Andrew Jackson less than most new releases. I think this was a smart move; charging full price for what is essentially a new interface with co-op multiplayer added on would likely put a bad taste in most gamers' mouths. For $40, though, I strongly recommend picking the game up. To anyone who had enjoyed the first, you will LOVE the second. To those who are even mildly interested, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won't be sorry. Unless that Profitamole keeps digging up your flowers, that is.