Those who enjoyed the original Viva Piñata will doubtfully get pleasure from this latest release from Microsoft. Viva Piñata: Party Animals doubles as a kart racing game and a mini-game collection, and while these avenues do seem to be popular methods amongst developers for cashing in on a peaking franchise (Crash Bandicoot, Mario Bros), the transition does not work for Party Animals for several reasons. Firstly, only a year after the successful and promising Viva Piñata surfaced Party Animals comes as a disappointment when it would have far more logical to develop a sequel. Releasing Party Animals raises questions as to
whether or not Viva Piñata has the gusto to develop into a fully fledged franchise. Secondly, where other kart racing/mini–game collections have been successful, Party Animals fails due to quite dismal gameplay.
Party Animals retains the vibrant visuals and aggressively upbeat music and humour that fans have come to love from the original Viva Piñata, and the sheer simplicity and vibrancy should be enough to capture the game’s target audience at a glance. The piñatas look so cute and cuddly you’d sooner adopt one as your bed time companion than beat it to death with a stick to steal the candy inside. The commentators also do a good job maintaining the wacky humour of the Viva Piñata universe with their light hearted trash talk. However, the gameplay is so lacking in depth and originality the visual and musical charm of the game wears off rapidly.
The premise of the game is a sort of Piñata Party Animal olympics, where all the Piñata’s from the previous game assemble on an island to compete for the title of Party Animal Champion. Players can compete against the AI or go head-to-head on XBOX live, but four players, whether they are AI or human opponents,
are a must-have to begin a game. Your typical game of Party Animals has you alternate between single–lap foot races and various mini-game events. How you place in these events affects your overall score throughout, and the piñata with the highest total at the end of the game is declared champion.
The races are a simple affair, with the tracks being loaded with so many power ups that these become more strategically important to finishing first than effectively navigating the course. Aside from visual changes the tracks vary extremely little as you pro
gress through the various stages, despite there being 14 of them. Stick to the same race strategy for each track (which consists solely of getting the weapons ahead of the other contestants) and you have yourself a victory. Nor do the tracks become more challenging, and being only a single lap affair the races are over pretty fast.
The mini-games are even more disappointing. While the game boasts more than fifty party games the actual total probably narrows down to about ten, considering that most of these games are virtually identical to each other, being distinguishable only by different visual arrangements. Consisting of a mixture of zany activities such as smashing pumpkins, squashing bugs and apple–eating contests, the mini-game events are a feeble, single button affair that serves only to fill the gap between races.
For those who were about to rush out and buy Viva Piñata: Party Animals either for your kids, or because you loved the original Viva Piñata for its undeniable charm and well-thought out gameplay, save your money — it’s better spent donating money to homeless people who need to move out of their cardboard boxes.