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Rare's papier-mache creatures make a comeback in a sequel that addresses virtually all of the original's problems...
It seems fair to say that Rare's initial crack at conquering Microsoft's ill-fated intent to find some appeal amongst a mainstream audience failed the first time around. Released at the same time as a certain Gears of War, the original Viva Pinata sank without a trace despite its many magical charms. Still undeterred like only Rare could from such a disappointment, the UK studio has returned with a larger assortment of papier-mâché creatures with the release of Viva Pinata 2 - and it's managed to squeeze this one onto the shop shelves before Marcus Fenix this time around.
Boasting a similar setup to the original, the few 360 gamers that took a risk with Viva Pinata will find a largely identical format albeit with a number of handy improvements. In many ways Viva Pinata 2 has been a quick sequel for Rare, based around the same concept and rehashing many of the visuals and music before the series is placed on gardening leave for the foreseeable future.
For the vast number of people that overlooked the original (shame on you), Viva Pinata offers the slightly odd concept of managing and maintaining the perfect garden. Armed with a shovel and a watering can the challenge laid before you is to decorate a patch of land in true Alan Titchmarsh style, which in turn entices the wild pinata to come out of hiding before catering to their needs for them to become residents and eventually happy enough to get romantic and ensure a steady string of baby piñatas.
Although Viva Pinata 2 is based around the same concept and unlikely to find a vastly increased appeal this time around, the small but vocal fanbase of the original will enjoy the many subtle enhancements that Rare has brought to the sequel. Many of these stem from interface changes which make the overall experience a lot quicker; case in question, the ability to quick select pinatas, buy seeds, fertiliser, and other items straight from the garden instead of having to visit Costalot's shop every time and endure the brief but aggravating load sequence.
Successfully enticing new piñatas and developing the garden increases your experience as a gardener, unlocking new items, features and much more. Once again the size of the garden is restricted to begin with, but a further subtle yet helpful change is the fact you can roam around the outer edges to observe the wild pinatas on the verge of joining your garden and discover the requirements needed for them to become a resident. It's not just the one garden this time around; Viva Pinata 2 expands even further with the inclusion of two new zones, Dessert Desert and Pinartic, complete with their very own species of pinatas to capture. Although you can't shape these landscapes, you do have the ability to purchase traps from Longston to ensnare these unique creatures and rather cruelly ship them to your garden - although you will have to accommodate them with suitable surroundings.
Further extras include new competitions and mini-games specific to each piñata, along with perhaps one of the best and most creative uses we've seen of the Xbox Live Vision camera to-date. Viva Pinata 2 is supported with the release of Pokemon-esque trading cards (check inside your box), but not only hoping to cash in on 8-year olds playing swapsies in the playground at lunch, the in-game camera allows you to take shots of your pinatas and create your very own cards that can be sent to friends via Xbox Live.
The sequel also boasts a fuller Xbox Live experience this time around with the ability to share a garden with up to three of your friends. All of you can share the joy of cultivating the perfect garden, dropping in and out as needed or specifying certain rules to ensure nobody ruins it all when you weren't looking.
Also new to the sequel is the ability to play 'just for fun', stripping away inconveniences to ease younger or less skilled players into the flow of the game. Personally we feel it takes the strategic element out of Viva Pinata and leaves something just a little too vague for our liking; but at least the option is there if you'd prefer to enjoy watching piñatas at work as opposed to playing a game.
Although we loved the original Viva Pinata and sob every night due to the fact it found itself cruelly ignored by an audience more accustomed to battle rifles, one of our major criticisms has been addressed for the sequel. A game that defines the terms 'open-ended' and 'sandbox', the original was a little too free at times and perhaps left gamers feeling a little confused by what to do next. Thankfully the sequel has a little more structure in place, with the inclusion of Longstorn's missions that challenge you to send specific piñatas to parties across the globe. This structure provides a much needed sense of guidance and purpose to the experience, which ultimately was a big flaw in the original's design.
The missions also help to develop the idea of caring and nurturing each piñata as opposed to luring them in and just forgetting about them. 'Candiosity' is displayed as a meter whenever you hover over a piñata and is often needed to be chock-full before sending them off to the various parties across the globe. Candisoty can be increased by feeding, renaming or giving the piñatas accessories, which encourages you to experiment with the many hidden depths that Viva Pinata has to offer.
And that's where Viva Pinata 2, much like the original, really shines. In traditional Rare fashion there's a considerable number of hidden techniques and strategies that defy its simplistic, childish presentation. It truly is a game with a gargantuan amount of long-term depth that will reward anybody willing to give it a chance; scratch beneath the surface and you'll find the traditional Rare touch that's lavished upon their many masterpieces.
Ultimately, although we have nothing but unanimous praise for Viva Pinata 2, it's failings as a game concept is still evident despite the many improvements. The game still has a habit of loosing itself with extended play, ensuring it takes a certain type of player to really stick with the game and enjoy it in the long-term.
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