Viva Piñata by Rare takes place on appropriately-named Piñata Island, where piñatas are born and raised to be delivered to parties around the world. This delivery happens via a giant piñata cannon on a tower in the middle of the island. You are given a small plot of land, initially covered with trash and unusable soil, and a shovel with which to start your garden. The nicer your garden is, the more piñatas you’ll attract to it, and the first piñatas come right away in the form of Whirlms once you’ve loosened up some dirt and Syrupents once you’ve planted some grass.
There are many ways to improve your garden and attract piñatas. You are given a shovel and a seed packet for free at the beginning of the game. These can be used to loosen dirt and plant grass respectively. The shovel can also be initially used to smash up junk in your garden and gets upgraded during the course of the game so that eventually it can dig ponds and even cut down trees. There are many improvements available at the stores in town, as well. You can buy fencing, walkways, decorations like fountains and statues, and houses for your piñatas and workers.
There’s also a strange little man named Seedos who walks across your plot often, and talking to him will yield seeds you can plant. If you’re unsatisfied with the seeds he gives you for free, you can whack him with your shovel. This will knock seeds out of his backpack (sometimes mysterious seeds you haven’t encountered before), but he’ll get angry and come back for revenge to plant weeds in your garden.
Each piñata will choose to visit your garden based on certain criteria, related to the type of animal it is. For instance, Flutterflys like daisies, and so they won’t visit unless you’ve planted some daisies in your garden. Many piñatas will only stay if they eat one of your existing piñatas. Pretztails, for example, won’t stay unless they’re allowed to eat a mouse. (The food chain in Viva Piñata is referred to as the “donut of life.”) The Piñata Island wiki contains an extensive database of all the piñata requirements and preferences.
Early on, the tutorial teaches you how to “romance” your piñatas, “romance” being a euphemism for… well, you know, two adult piñatas making a baby piñata. Once the romance requirements have been met for each piñata, you can point them towards each other. Romancing takes the form of a simple mini-game, where you have to guide one piñata to the other, avoiding the bombs and collecting bonus coins. The romancing mini-game starts out trivial, but becomes very difficult as you attempt romance more valuable piñatas. If you’re successful, you’re treated to a cute animation of the piñatas dancing, and an egg delivered into their house.
Once you’re sufficiently leveled-up, you begin to get requests from Party Central. These requests usually take the form of sending a couple piñatas of the same kind to the party. Fulfilling the request in the time limit greatly increases the value of the piñata you send to the party, as well as rains happiness candy down on your entire garden.
Viva Piñata allows you to create new gardens with the money and experience you’ve gained from your last garden, making it easy to try a new garden design or attempt to lure different piñata species than the ones in your previous garden. (Which is important, since some piñatas do not co-exist easily.)
All-in-all, Viva Piñata is an excellent game for every member of the family. It also addresses one of the frequent complaints about the Xbox, the lack of kid-friendly games. I’ve played the game for a couple dozen hours, and I’m far away from completing the accomplishments in the game (which are far more numerous than the Xbox Live accomplishments.) If you have an Xbox 360 and get sick of killing terrorists, give Viva Piñata a try.