BARCELONA, Spain--Earlier today at Microsoft's X06 event in Barcelona, we had an opportunity to spend some quality time with a near-finished version of Viva Piñata. Since we were starting a new garden from scratch, a lot of what we saw was familiar from last week's Tokyo Game Show presentation of the game, but the difference is that this time, we were at the controls.
Upon starting the game, we found ourselves face to face with a young woman named Leafos, who was quite distraught at the state of the garden that we'd just become the owner of. Dried-up ground and debris were all there was to see, but fortunately both of these ailments can be fixed in Viva Piñata simply by hitting the ground with a shovel. Leafos handed us the shovel after a brief conversation, and we set about turning the aforementioned mess into an area of good-looking soil. Moments after doing so, we were visited by our first worm piñata, who wasted no time checking out the dirt, deciding that it was good stuff, and becoming a resident of our garden. A second worm followed, and it wasn't long before their presence attracted the attention of a predator--a sparrow piñata that also wasted no time calling our garden home.
As we continued to play through Viva Piñata's occasionally laborious tutorial (Rare is purportedly tweaking it as we speak), we gained access to additional tools and abilities, including sowing grass, planting seeds, and using a watering can. All of these options were accessed by an uncomplicated menu system comprising a series of flowers with eight petals--each petal is assigned to a different item or submenu. Using the items is very simple, generally requiring only a single push of a button once you have one in your hand. There are a few variables to consider, such as using a short or a long pour of the watering can to make sure that you don't drown your plants but also don't let them dry out, but we saw nothing that a young child couldn't get to grips with quickly, which is just as well, given the game's target audience.
Leafos rarely left our garden and was always available to offer us advice if we needed it. Far more useful, though, was an odd-looking character named Seedos, who will walk through your garden every now and then and give you a seed almost every time you talk to him (or hit him with your shovel, though there will be consequences if you do). By making a point of talking to Seedos every time we saw him, we were able to add turnips, carrots, and two different types of flowers to our garden in a relatively short space of time, and each of those attracted a different species of piñata. The turnips attracted mice (which in turn attracted grass snakes), the carrots attracted rabbits (which in turn attracted foxes), and the two flowers attracted butterflies and bees, respectively. Not all of these piñatas chose to move into our garden straight away, but as soon as you get them anywhere near your garden, their information will be added to the game's encyclopedia, in which you can often find out what their criteria are for becoming residents and, ultimately, for procreation. Some of the piñata are very easy to attract to the area surrounding your garden, because all they need is a lot of empty space or for it to be night time, for example. Attracting them into your garden and keeping them happy, though, can be much more challenging, since they require a certain number of plants or fruit, other species of piñata, or even items purchased from one of the game's stores (a light for the moth, for example) before they'll consider it.
As your reputation increases and you level up in Viva Piñata, you'll gain access to new options, such as being able to monitor the happiness of your garden's inhabitants, tell the in-game time with a clock that looks like a flower, and accessorize your piñatas with items bought from a store. We saw a number of different hats, spectacles, and the like during our time with the game today, and they definitely helped us to pick out our favorite piñatas. The flipside of having favorites, of course, is that it can be quite upsetting when they get eaten by predators, as was the case with our alpha-male worm. "Maggot" wasn't wearing any accessories when he became a sparrow's lunch, but if he had been, they would have been lost forever, so you might want to think twice before giving expensive fashions to piñatas who live near the bottom of the food chain.
Our time with Viva Piñata came to an end much sooner than we'd have liked, not only because we were enjoying the game, but also because our garden was looking quite promising. It shouldn't be too long before we get our hands on our own copy of the game, though, and we look forward to bringing you more information as soon as we do.