Viva Pinata: Microsoft’s first casual Xbox 360 game doesn’t make the cut

Posted by Mark Raby

Game Review – At this year’s E3, Microsoft told us that it would be offering more casual games that appeal to the whole family in an effort to go after the Nintendo Wii audience. Viva Pinata is the first major title in this strategy and, quite apparently, it is much harder to create such a game than it sounds. Viva Pinata on the Xbox 360 disappoints.


See the unusual Viva Pinata: Party Animals in action ...

Viva Pinata came out around a year ago, becoming one of the big sleeper hits of the 2006 holiday season.  Its colorful, whimsical design made it seem like a big push for Microsoft to catch casual gamers.  However, the surprisingly deep intricacies made it more of a hardcore strategy game than a quick, easy-to-play title.

So for this year, Microsoft decided to use the same paper mache characters in a much more simplified setting.  Unfortunately, it became way too simplified and ruined the opportunity to build a fun game on a solid franchise.

The game's basic structure is somewhat similar to the mother of all party games, Mario Party.  However, instead of a board game, the underlying game is a footrace.  Players gain speed during the race by competing in various mini-games, and this is where the game falls apart.

Anyone familiar with either one of the two Fuzion Frenzy titles knows what typical Microsoft Game Studios  mini party games are like.  They're kind of clunky, not well explained, and for the most part are cheap knock-offs of other, better games.  Well, the games in Party Animals are almost like cheap knock-offs of the Fuzion Frenzy mini-games, which is really pitiful.

Granted, there are a handful that are fun and do make the game pleasant at times.  However, the mix is highly concentrated with really boring, really tedious, really simple games that offer no challenge or enjoyment.  This leads to a lack of excitement when someone wins.

At several points it is just aggravating, because instead of enjoying the mini-games I was left just hoping for one of the few fun games.  The over-saturation of tedious activities makes the entire experience just drag on.

That's not even mentioning the overlying race, which is also really pointless.  There are only four different tracks, and it feels like something that Microsoft spent about 15 minutes discussing in a development meeting.

This game shows that Microsoft does not yet understand what it takes to make a good family-oriented game. In our opinion, the title underestimates the desire of the casual gamer.  It takes more than just an easy-to-follow control scheme to make a good casual game.  It also has to be fun.  Microsoft just packaged a bunch of colorful pinata animals together and threw in a sloppy underlying game element. Microsoft's casual game strategy needs more enthusiasm the customer it is targeting.