When I worked over in the Great Canadian Dollar Store over in Banff, Alberta, I would often stare at the piñatas dangling from the roof and think, 'if that fell on someone, it'd bloody well hurt.' That, in turn, made me think that making candy (I was in Canada, remember) fall out of them by hitting them with a stick probably isn't that easy. It turns out I was missing the point. It turns out that what piñatas are actually
for is collecting, breeding and generally being almost unbearably cute.
In need of a bit more education on what piñatas are for as I was, when I got the rare opportunity to visit Rare (I've done it, no more rare puns now, promise) down near Birmingham, I took it.
Having made my way onto the frankly stunning premises by way of a secret entrance behind a magic waterfall, I was presented with a DS and a copy of the handheld instalment in the Viva Piñata
series – Pocket Paradise
If you're unfamiliar with the series, it's essentially... well, it's a gardening simulation. That, I know, makes it sound like the most boring game since Bus Simulator
, but it's really not. The point is to entice an eclectic range of piñatas into your garden where they will eat, sleep, frolic and... well, Rare calls it 'romancing'. I'd be tempted to go with something else. Although there isn't an end point to the game as such, the general aim is to have as many different types of piñata pass through your garden as possible. See, fun!
To start with, I had to play through four tutorial episodes. Yes, episodes. With a nod to the Viva Piñata
animated series Rare has included various different episodes that act as in-game tutorials. You'll start with the four I did to master the basics and then be drawn into them periodically throughout the rest of the game as you come across more that needs to be learned.
So, the tutorials. I'm happy to report that they're quick and not unpleasant. I got through them over the course of just a few minutes, putting me in the position where the main garden was unlocked and I could ably start to play the game. Despite my aforementioned confusion as to the purpose of piñatas, I have spent a bit of time with the Xbox 360 iteration of the game, which no doubt helped. That said, I can't imagine it taking complete VP
virgins much (if any) longer than it took me to complete them.
The control system has been put together to enable you to play through the game using only the touch screen. Should you want to, you can bring into play the DS's old school D-pad and face buttons (with the option to switch them round if you're a leftie), but I found the touch screen interface to be simple and effective. Basically, you use the stylus to navigate the garden (with the help of a map – you wouldn’t think you’d need a map for something as small as a garden, but it’s a big help) and navigate the menu, doing tasks as you go.
Once you’re into the main garden you’re confronted with a blank space to make your own – or terraform, if you want to get technical. You can dig, create water features, plant and buy in items such as houses for your piñatas and other assorted garden accessories to make the garden the kind of place you’d sit on an evening drinking G&T.