The ultracolorful visuals of Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise hide a deep and engrossing simulation of what it must be like to pump papier-mache animals full of candy. Following on the heels of the deceptively addictive 2006 original, developer Rare has brought the whole cast back for a second tour along with a bevy of new pinatas and gameplay modes to complement your cultivating endeavors. A better tutorial and clear-cut objectives make this easier for novices to tackle their own gardens, and the intricate balancing act required to tame the more complex pinatas should delight seasoned players as well. The core experience may not have received a noticeable overhaul in the last two years, but the fictional animals are still so charming, and the rewards are so fulfilling, that Trouble in Paradise is even harder to resist than its predecessor.
There is actually a reason why you must capture and forcibly breed these lovable party animals this time: In an attempt to steal all of the vital data about the inhabitants of Pinata Island for himself, Professor Pester and his dim-witted associates accidentally erased the entire encyclopedia of knowledge. It is your job to repopulate these virtual pages. It's a thin excuse to get you back on the romance wagon, but it thankfully stays in the background after an early cutscene. You will still have to deal with the aptly named Pester throughout as he attempts to destroy your wonderful little world, but the overarching tale is largely forgotten after the first few minutes. Your gardening duties are interrupted only by the various movies that play each time a new character or pinata appears, or when you achieve a particular milestone, and these movies are usually so darn cute that they serve as rewards for your hard work.
Your gardening activities are indistinguishable from the original game. Pinatas are drawn toward your plot of land based on what plants are growing there, who else is currently calling it home, and what level gardener you are. After they appear, you can go into the encyclopedia to see exactly what you need to do to make them stay. Early animals require only a nice bit of soil or maybe one type of easily grown flower before they'll move in, whereas later ones will demand that you completely overhaul the terrain and provide a healthy portion of their favorite pinatas to eat. Once you convince the animals to stay, you'll have to go through even more steps before they'll procreate. It is a lot of work getting the higher-level animals to stay and breed, but it is well worth the dedication. The animals all have their own personalities, and once you catch sight of a lonely custacean scuttling along the beach, you'll want to rope it in and force it to make baby pinatas.
The biggest addition to Trouble in Paradise is a stream of challenges constantly pushing you to acquire new pinatas. There are various parties and celebrations going on all over the world, and you are asked to provide the candy entertainment. You'll have to capture a specific type of animal, make it happy so it is nearly bursting with tasty sweets, and send it off to foreign lands. This addresses the biggest problem with the original game. Before, you were left to your own devices and were forced to decide which pinatas to breed and how to sculpt your garden. There was no motivation, so if you didn't have your eye on a particular species, it was possible to lose interest in the entire experience. You can still go after whichever animals you most desire, but the challenges provide a push when you can't figure out exactly what to do next.
The other notable addition is two new terrains to tinker around with. You can warp to Dessert Desert and the Pinarctic to catch completely different types of creatures. You can't build in these areas, but you can lay down traps to bring these exotic beasts back to your land. This is where you'll find candy-filled varieties of penguins, vultures, yaks, and camels, among other creatures. Once you get them back to your garden, you'll have to lay down sand or snow to make them happy. These two areas are welcome additions because they provide a stable of animals completely different from the standard warm-weather set, but the act of laying out traps and picking up these terrified creatures from the post office isn't too exciting. Furthermore, the traps don't always seem to work right. Even though you can manually trigger them, certain agile animals will be able to escape even after you've bribed them with their favorite foods.
There are also a number of tweaks that make the core experience much easier. You can now cycle through your plants and animals using the bumper buttons, which is a welcome relief when you're desperately looking for a flutterscotch hiding high up in a monkeynut tree. You can also whip out a bag of seeds while in your garden, which saves you a trip to the store every time you want to plant a new flower. There are more than 30 new pinatas to discover, including a few new sour pinatas that will try to trick your inhabitants into eating poisoned candy, though you can always tame them to make them your own. Costolot's store now sells toys, but they serve as silly distractions rather than new ways to capture and entertain your pinatas. Nevertheless, it is fun setting up a train set around your garden, gawking at collisions when oblivious pinatas step on the track.
Trouble in Paradise is extremely well paced. Every time you do something new--growing a new plant, seeing a new pinata, and making pinatas breed for the first time, among other things--you'll receive experience points. If you get enough points to level up, you'll have access to even more new things. Higher levels bring new pinatas, upgrade your gardening tools, make your garden bigger, and provide new seeds in the shops. This means that there is a near-constant stream of new things to tinker with.
The charming visuals are a large part of the reason that seeing new pinatas is so darn rewarding. The animals all have their own mannerisms that make them exceedingly cute. It's worth hours of careful planning to finally lure a stubborn pinata into your garden just to see them shed their black-and-white coat for a Technicolored exterior and watch them walk around your park, interacting with the other residents and making silly noises. Seeing all the little touches that this game has to offer is the reward for a job well done.
It's a shame that the human characters can't match the whimsical nature of your animals. Your fellow gardeners are quite hideous, donning creepy masks that would be better served during a Halloween haunted house rather than this lush tropical garden. The voice acting is equally offensive. It's bad enough that the store clerk yells, "Can I interest you in something seedy?" when you walk in her shop, but her grating voice makes these sentences even worse. At least you can turn the voice acting down, but it serves as a rather jarring wakeup call from the serene music and vibrant visuals.
Trouble in Paradise includes four-player support, both online and offline, but it serves more as a learning tool than a full-blown cooperative experience. You can recruit friends to help you with your gardener tasks, but it's unfulfilling no matter which side you're on. If it's your own garden, it feels funny having other people messing around with shovels and bags of seeds, tweaking your finely tuned habitat. Visiting someone else's garden is just as unsettling. It's not your world, after all, so you're left doing the tasks assigned to you without being able to exert the creativity and vision that you would be able to unleash in your own garden. However, the cooperative tool is a good way to introduce inexperienced players to the mix. Teaching them the basic tricks without forcing them to tend to a whole garden alone can ease them into the Viva experience.
You can now hold up a Viva Pinata card to your Vision Camera to get new items and animals, but the camera often takes awhile to register what it’s seeing. It doesn’t add much to the overall package anyway. It can be fun dressing up a walrusk and sharing him with your friends, but it's simply more rewarding to lure your own walrusk into your garden rather than taking one from a friend. There are also a few minigames that you can compete in, but they aren't nearly as enjoyable as your main garden activities. There's a fashion show in which a pinata is seemingly chosen at random as the best-looking of the bunch, and a side-scrolling racing game that's worth taking part in one or two times if only for novelty's sake. The breeding minigame, in which you have to meet up with your mate before you can romance, is slightly more complex this time, making you work hard to collect hearts before the time ends your wooing prematurely. The ability to add your times to a leaderboard adds some replay value to these tasks, plus you can earn variations if you pass them in spectacular fashion.
Trouble in Paradise is a safe sequel to a great game. Though it doesn't mess with the formula set forth in the first Viva Pinata, it does add enough control tweaks and new items to make it engrossing for both Viva veterans and those who have never learned the joys of forcing a family of whirlms to interbreed. All of those tasty new pinatas for a budget price really is paradise.