worth five minutes of decent enjoyabaility.
With Nintendo’s Wii quickly increasing its market dominance over the Xbox 360, Microsoft is fighting a seemingly losing battle to increase its family market share. At the forefront of this strategy is a new game, Viva Piñata: Party Animals. The title is a continuation of a series that began Microsoft’s family-friendly attempt last year with the sandbox game Viva Piñata.
The original Viva Piñata, released last November for the Xbox 360, was meant to be the launch of a new family franchise. The release was coupled with a new Saturday morning cartoon in an attempt to replicate the Pokémon phenomenon. However, the game was severely overshadowed by Microsoft’s massive Gears of War advertising campaign and failed to sell a notable number of copies.
The first Viva Piñata game was made for Microsoft by Rare Ltd. In it, players manage a world composed of brightly coloured papier-mâché critters called piñatas. The goal of the original title is to create a paradise for their piñatas.
With Party Animals, the franchise is headed in a new direction. Developer Krome Studios have taken over, and their title is a party game that borrows the Viva Piñata license for a totally different experience.
Party Animals is, in every way, a game for a younger audience. Most of the 20-something journalists present at the game preview quickly lost interest and headed for the free tequila bottles. Screens are filled with every bright colour imaginable. It is enough to make Willy Wonka green (and blue, orange and fuchsia) with envy.
Likewise, the sound seems to be ripped from Looney Toons episodes with “boings” and “zings” going off constantly. Characters also have some catchphrases they will usually spout off when they win a match. Having no interest in subtlety, the game also includes two “announcers” that never seem to stop talking. By the end of any play session, the Viva Piñata theme will be firmly drilled into your mind.
Before each round of mini games, the players compete in short kart races. Race outcome affects the “race bonus” each player receives. The race bonus then affects the amount of Candiosity players can win.
These races feel like a shallow version of Mario Kart. Maps feature power-ups that range from a beehive, which spills honey behind the kart to slow down competitors, to a pair of butterfly wings, which carry players through the air to a location further down the track. Unfortunately, most of the items seem to be variations of a speed boost and offer little variety.
After the race, players view a screen where instructions for the upcoming mini game are shown. Although Party Animals technically features over 50 mini games, many of them are simple variations on the same premise. For instance, two games are variations of pin the tail on the pony. The first has the pony spinning on a turntable while the second has ponies floating in space.
Many of the mini games involve trying to gather more candy than your opponents. One game involves following a spotlight while candy is dispensed. Another has players smash buttons in order to burp powerfully enough to power a sailboat. Enjoyment was hampered during some target shooting games in which imprecise controls made play difficult.
Players can choose from one of four piñatas. Each piñata has a male and female persona for a total of eight playable characters.
Viva Piñata: Party Animals is a shallow experience. The character options are unsatisfying. The mini games offer little variety and even less incentive to play for lengthy periods of time. Party games do have a place, and can often be fun, but Party Animals does not satisfy.
The one advantage of Viva Piñata: Party Animals is that it is one of very few Xbox 360 titles accessible to children. It is also one of the few high-profile titles on the console not rated Teen or Mature. That does not, however, justify the lack of excitement and satisfaction.