Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, a Microsoft Xbox 360 exclusive, doesn't stray far from the core gameplay that made the original Viva Piñata so popular. It is still an ecosystem simulation in which you care for and guide cute colorful animals. You still plant seeds and tend to a garden to attract piñatas, just this time around the game mechanics have been streamlined and there's new content to create a richer experience. Plus, this version is even more family-friendly than the first, with an easy-to-use "Just for Fun" mode.
The story behind this game is that pesky Professor Pester tried to steal the database of all the piñatas, but he bungled the job and deleted all the vital information on these magical creatures. Your job is to plant gardens that will entice the almost 100 different pinata creatures to your garden. If you meet their needs in your garden, they will be happy and fill up with candy so that you can send them off to a party. By attending a party, that piñata's information is then replaced in the missing database.
There are two ways to play this game: in the standard mode or "Just for Fun." In both modes, you plant seeds, water and fertilize those seedlings, and then wait to see which animals will venture into your garden to check out your plants. The basic concept is that different plants entice different piñatas. Since this is an ecosystem, some piñatas will be attracted to your garden because they like to eat the other piñatas already there. You also have the ability to create different terrains, including ponds, sand and snow that may attract certain piñatas.
Regardless of the mode, caring for piñatas is at the heart of this game. Each piñata has "residence" requirements, which may be as simple as having three poppy plants. Once those requirements are met, a visiting piñata will become a resident in a visually exciting video where it turns from black and white into a very colorful resident. In addition to residence requirements, each species has more demanding romancing requirements. You also need to make sure your piñatas are happy, a state represented by their candiosity meter. Candiosity can be earned by naming them, or leading them to their favorite food. But not all piñatas are compatible, so you may have fights if you don't separate incompatible piñatas by fencing or selling off one species.
For those who are new to Viva Piñata games, it's best to start in the "Just for Fun" mode because it is easier to learn how to garden without the limitations imposed on you in the standard mode. In a "Just for Fun" garden, you start with a large garden that is already planted with a few trees and flowers. Unlike in the standard mode where you start off with a modest amount of money, in the "Just of Fun" mode, you have unlimited resources to buy anything you want in your garden. This means that you can immediately plant all the varieties of flowers, bushes and trees to see which animals are attracted to which plants. Plus there is no "trouble" in this mode, so you don't have to deal with weeds, poachers, or a nasty variation of piñatas called "Sours" which can make other piñatas sick.
In the standard mode, your garden will evolve more slowly over time. You have to do things to level up your garden before certain seeds and piñatas will appear. You need to focus on how to make money by selling plants or piñatas. There are a series of achievements to earn; and the instructions are a little hard to figure out.
If you have played the original Viva Piñata, you will find plenty here to bring you back to gardening. You can venture to the Dessert Desert and Pinarctic to find unique piñatas that thrive in those habitats. This game adds 32 new piñatas to the 60 found in the first game. Plus there are themed object packs so that you can make your garden look like a pirate cove or a space ship. You can also scan in new piñatas using an Xbox Live Vision Camera; and all piñatas can be taught tricks. If you tire of gardening, this version allows you to race your piñatas and enter them in contests.
But the best addition is the new beefed up drop-in, drop-out cooperative mode. Two family members can garden together, with one in the lead and the other helping and earning magic, which can be used to heal sick piñatas or fill candiosity meters. For older players, there is also a 4-person online cooperative play.
With two modes accommodating both seasoned gamers and newbies, this is a great game for families. This deep ecosystem encourages experimentation because you want to discover all the adorable piñatas. It is a game that will keep you enthralled for hours and hours.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.