Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise DS Review

Rare spices up the stylus and touch screen with Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise, available for the Nintendo DS. Thanks to charming cut scenes, adorable critters and plenty of depth, this gardening sim will keep you toiling into the wee hours.

The tissue-papered and brightly colored characters populating your plot of land are a spitting image of their cartoon show counterparts. Entering the garden for the first time, you are guided by four training episodes. After completing these basic garden directions, the place is yours to command.

There are 12 training missions that explain the actions you can unlock. The abilities gained from completing them might upset your garden groove. However, this small disruption is a minor offense when so much of the game is wonderful. If you want to really get the hang of all this new information, you can run a test garden in the Playground. This free-for-all mode lets you build, cultivate and corral to your heart's content without worrying about the budget. It is a great way to experiment without ruining a bunch of hard work.

As different animals and insects crawl in and out of your territory, some may reside in your garden if the conditions are right. Knowing what you need to keep your selected beast happy in its new home is where the difficulty comes in. A detailed encyclopedia and a top screen filled with helpful information assists you in luring and procuring the animals. Flowers, vegetables and fruits can bring candy-filled insects, birds and bunnies to the yard as visitors or residents.

As in any real garden, there are some rather unsavory characters trying to undermine your progress. Our experience with the shellybeans was one such example. The candy-named snails eat your seeds and produce bad candy. Your pets eat the foul flavors and get sick. If you don't send medical attention to the creature in question immediately, a long-legged and creepy shaman-looking fellow comes along and busts your pinata open. There are ways to take care of these no-good party crashers, but our favorite was beating them over the head with a shovel.

Filling your garden with smaller pinatas catches the eyes and noses of larger characters that want to eat your first-generation party favors. Resistance to following the food chain in favor of holding onto your babies occurs at first, but when you sacrifice a few whirlms to romance a sparrowmint or two it becomes easier to let go.

Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise is filled with reproductive innuendo. After romancing two pinatas of the same species, they slide into their house and a cut-scene begins. The animals perform a ritualistic pinata mating dance and end up with a baby.

Gradually, you'll get to know over 60 pinatas who have different desires from your garden. You'll need such items as pumpkins, apple trees and ponds to attract them, and you can dig, plant and landscape as little or as much as you like. The space you own (designated by a white chalk line) gets bigger as you play, which may cause a need to demolish your entire garden and start fresh along the new boundary lines.

When it seems as if the population within those lines can't get any bigger, you can slim down your menagerie by selling pinatas or sending them to friends through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Imagine shipping one of those sour shellybeans to a friend or even an enemy. Twist the knife further with a seed-eating slug.

Though the action in Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise comes unexpectedly and some boredom sets in, this is still a great DS game. If you didn't get a chance to experience Viva Pinata on the Xbox 360, be sure to try Pocket Paradise for a near-perfect recreation. It's almost as good as a real pinata, but you can't eat the candy.

What's Hot: Pinata sex, caring for your garden, the playground, sending bad pinatas to friends, eating candy, the details.

What's Not: Game can overwhelm you, some periods of boredom.

4/5