For a game that's been ear-marked by some as Microsoft's attempt to cater for a younger Xbox 360 audience, Viva Piņata is surprisingly complex; that becomes clear within the first hour of play, with reams of commands fired off in such rapid succession that the player can't help but be overwhelmed. Buy this for a younger relative and expect to have to sit in for their first day on Piņata Island.
It's not that the neccessary tasks are incredibly difficult - removing garden rubbish by whacking it with your newly acquired shovel, reseeding the soil with grass, making it attractive enough to catch the interest of the local Piņata population - but you need to learn so much in such a short time that it'll be a few hours before you'll have it all under control; at which point the game throws a load of new gameplay mechanics at you.
You've just found your feet when new characters, warring Piņatas and garden expansion all threaten to destroy your calm. Kameo had the look but not the longevity, Perfect Dark Zero lacked memorable moments. Viva Piņata is, if not a complete return to form by Rare, at least an indication that the company's trademark zany humour and unique zest is back in evidence. It's the vibrant use of colour that hits you first - as if the developer has got the entire Dulux paint catalogue and thrown it at your television screen. The muted brown disused garden that'll be your home for the foreseeable future is soon awash with a rainbow of colour as you plant and grow flowers, build homes for your Piņata and welcome visitors to your land. Tend your home to attract the 66 different species of Piņata, each of whom have specific individual requirements that need to be catered for if you want them to settle your garden.
Getting them to stay - at which point the camera will zoom in on your enamoured Piņata as they change from a wild black and white to a garden-trained random colour - is another matter entirely. Most of the creatures' needs are detailed in the exhaustive in-game journal, the menu-selected tome that lists and explains everything that has taken place during your stint in your garden. By far the most important of these creatures is the humble Whirlm, the first traveller into your new digs. It's on these earth worms that'll you first road test most of Viva Piņata's basic features, building them a home by employing the resident Builder (whose prices vary depending on the Piņata's commonness) while dabbling with your first vegetable patch, seeds supplied by the aptly named Seedos - a wandering merchant who'll regularly return to check up on your plants.
But since this is a family game, any explicit moments of sexy time are replaced with the 'romance dance', a humorous cutscene that flashes up the first time a particular species gets it on, the two love-mates serenading each other on the dancefloor of their particular habitat. Help comes in the form of the puzzle mini-game, as you direct the loved-up Piņata to its mate through an overhead maze - the walls of which are lust-destroying red bombs. Each maze is dotted with randomly placed chocolate coins along multiple routes, and as you progress to bigger Piņata species, these mazes increase in complexity.
Succeed, and a short while later Storkos, an overweight lady who lives in a huge egg by your garden boundaries, will drop off an egg. The egg will hatch into a baby Piņata, the baby will then grow into its adult form at which point you can sell it on for profit, or feed it to a bigger Piņata. While resident Piņatas will only eat each other under your direct command, wild ones will need no such prompting - and only a deft whack of your shovel will deter them as they are determined to eat everything! This introduces the towering pyramid that is the food chain into the proceedings; and is where the complexity of the game kicks in.