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After playthroughs at the Xbox Showcase, we were excited to get our hands on the retail version for review.

The first Viva Piñata had a great foundation to begin with. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but the fact that there was enough future potential while being genuinely entertaining was a good thing for the future. To put it shortly, Trouble in Paradise improves the foundation set by the first Piñata... yet it borrows a lot from the first game. Not surprising, right? In order for Rare to release this in a reasonable timeframe, it only makes sense for them to use most of the code to develop Trouble in Paradise. But how much was used?

For starters, most of the music is directly recycled from the first game. While this isn’t such a bad thing when quality is put into perspective, those that are looking for a brand new soundtrack from Kirkhope will be severely disappointed.

Next up are the characters you talk to throughout the game. One of the first things you’ll notice is that, yes, the majority of their lines as well are recycled from the first game. Leafos’ favorite game is still Grabbed by the Ghoulies. Seedos still jokes around with you about charging money for seeds. Petula is still holding an irrepressible resentment towards her parents for leaving her on vacation and not coming back. Costolot still will only be friends with you if you buy her items. Of all the recycled elements, this one personally disappoints me the most due to the expectation of new dialogue. After all, Cranky Kong never repeated any lines from DKC1 in the sequel, did he?

A classical garden, similar to the ones from VP1

If you’re wondering why I’m placing the recycled aspects first, it’s because the rest of the game mostly, if not entirely, makes up for the small expectations hardcore Piñata fans have for the title.

The story for the unfamiliar goes something like this: Professor Pester makes it into the Piñata database in an attempt to steal valuable information... only to delete all of it. You, as the player, must restore the data by sending your Piñatas to certain parts of the world so that party goers can be entertained in the most sadistic of ways. That’s as far as the story seems to go, with claims by Justin Cook to have multiple endings. But hey, it’s nice to have an actual relevant story in this game compared to Piñata 1’s backstory that can only be found in the journal. With this in mind, the first game’s story is more of an origin story while Trouble in Paradise focuses on the present.

The first thing you’ll notice after the beginning cutscene is that there’s a tutorial in the form of Langston telling you what to do. They’re very basic things to complete, such as buying a house, romance dancing Bispottis, and sending them to different regions when they’re at maximum candiosity. Going through the tutorial for the sake of this review was not bad, but it felt highly restrictive compared to the even more basic tutorial of the first title. However, the blessing in disguise is that the tutorial can be skipped if you’re a veteran of the first title. Obviously I can’t speak for those that did not play the first Piñata title, but I believe Rare pulled off the tutorial in this game better than the first. It’s more specific in the main objectives of the game, and since the intent of this game is to pull those in who weren’t drawn into the first game’s charms, it fulfills its job.

To keep veterans of the first game interested, a lot of the objectives in the past are now executed by different methods. For example, in the first Piñata game, a requirement for getting a Bunnycomb to romance was by either a daisy or a buttercup. In Trouble in Paradise, however, you must feed it a radish in order for it to romance. It’s little things like this and different fruits/seeds eaten in order to get different variants that keeps the game different enough for Piñata 1 players to continue playing through instead of getting bored of it.

A garden with the complete Tower of Sour

Speaking of romancing, Romance Dancing returns, but with a change. In order to successfully romance your piñatas, you must collect the hearts within the maze. The challenges become predictably tougher as you romance the same species over and over, but the payoff can be worth an achievement if you get to your piñata’s incestuous lover fast enough. As you level up, you can change your camera view to a more 3D angle, which is one of many aspects that Rare has thankfully improved from the first game.

All of the items return from the first game, as well as the items from Paper Pets. Some of the new items available from Costalot include the second version of the Wind Chime, which makes your garden look prettier according to the description, more pieces to add to the Tower of Sour, and the Decoy Piñata, which I’ll explain later. I’ve mentioned toys in the E3 impressions, and nothing has changed about them. Some piñatas will go to the toys and interact with them (a personal example would have to be my three Bunnycombs getting their candiosity meter filled when they play the piano near their house), while some will either ignore it and/or just can’t interact with the toys.

Most of what was written in the E3 impressions regarding the Pinarctic and Dessert Desert haven’t changed. You still need to trap piñatas using fruits that they’re attracted to, and then they fall into the trap. However, some are smarter than others and will run away from the trap before it’s triggered. The option to scare piñatas that you don’t want stupidly falling into your traps is there, as you press A to hush them away.

A trap in Piñartic

Up next are Photo Mode and the Vision Cards. Photo Mode is accessed from the very beginning by going into the menu screen and selecting, yes, the camera. By zooming in with R and zooming out with L, you can take pictures to upload on vivapiñata.com. However, there are two catches. VP.com can only hold 5 pictures on your profile, which means that if there’s a picture you want to desperately show your newfound gardening friends, you have to reupload the picture. The second catch is related to the Vision Cards. Once you take a picture, you also have the option to make your picture a Vision Card. Keep in mind that if you decide to make your picture a Vision Card that has a piñata in the frame, uploading the card will make your piñata disappear from the garden. It’s not such a problem, but if you don’t have a Vision Camera and you concurrently like your carded piñata, there’s no way to get it back without the camera.

The Vision Cards were briefly talked about in the E3 impressions, but again, not much has changed, except for the belief back then that we’d be getting decks of cards. If you’re a recent adopter of the Vision Camera and see that your Camera doesn’t work immediately, don’t panic. Despite what the instruction manual says, you can’t just scan at any time. You’ll have to achieve a certain level in order for it to be used in the main garden, as opposed to it being automatically unlocked in Just For Fun.

As for using the cards themselves? Prepare to have great lighting (the bane of every videogamer, I’m aware), because if you don’t, it’ll be a pain in the ass to scan the cards without it. The usability of the cards is a double-edged sword. If you want to use them to get piñatas that wouldn’t normally be acquired with the conditions of your garden, their usefulness becomes evident. At the same time, some cards available now may or may not be useless depending on those same conditions. Ultimately, the usage of cards depends on you. They can help you level up if you’re lazy and/or are unwilling to sacrifice your current garden, or you’ll never use some. Regardless, if you want to get some achievements, you’re out of luck if you don’t have the Vision Camera. Just as Cook says, it makes the game more enjoyable, but it’s not necessary to complete it, achievements aside.

The Trouble in Paradise is solely Professor Pester. He’s even more dangerous this time around due to the fact that the Captain's Cutlass statue has absolutely no effect on him this time around. Despite this, he’s not entirely invincible, but it comes at a cost every single time. If you’re not familiar with what he does, he comes into your garden when you level up and he comes and destroys your piñatas. In the past, there was nothing you could do if you didn’t have Blackeye's Cutlass as you watched your prized piñata die at his hands. New to the game is the ability to bribe him: if you pay him a set price with the B button (I’d recommend 500 coins), he’ll run away and spare your piñata. Unfortunately, for some of your piñatas, he doesn’t accept bribes each and every time, which means that 50 percent of the time, one of your piñatas will be at risk. Luckily, Costalot has a new item when you’re at an advanced level called the Decoy Piñata, a badly made Horstachio. What it does is that, with the purchase of one for more than 700 coins, it stays in your garden and Pester will target it every single time it comes in. Of course this means that you’ll have to fork over 700+ coins when he destroys it and you can’t pay him. Piñata has always been about sacrifice, so it’s nice to see something come along that’ll spare your prized paper mache possessions.

Decoy Piñata and Professor Pester

The goal of the game is to complete the deleted computer records. Langston, replacing Igor Bargain’s space in the Village sub-menu, offers you three challenges at a time, each requiring a certain piñata at maximum candiosity. Yet fear not if you can’t or don’t have one of the three piñatas. Since the point of the game is the completion of the records, if you have a piñata at maximum candiosity that’s not one of Langston’s challenges, you can still send them away, complete a record, and gain points towards leveling up. Super!

Also new to this game are games that you can play with your Piñata. Upon pressing X on a highlighted piñata, an option on the upper left titled Games comes up. With that comes two games. A piñata race, and the P Factor. The piñata race is quite simple. Every piñata has a terrain that makes it go faster than others. For example, a Whirlm can go fast on dirt, while a Bunnycomb’s advantage is the grass. The trick is to move your piñata to the terrain that it has the most advantage on in order to win. The P Factor is much more random. You select a Piñata helper, and a total of 5 judge you. The more points you gain, the more chance you have to win. The more high-profile and dressed up your piñata is, the better chance you have. In the end, they’re nice little distractions, but nothing that’ll keep you away from your garden for that long.

The controls have been kept mostly intact. New to the game is the ability to summon different items depending on how many times you tap the D-Pad up, right, or left. For example, if you tap right on the D-Pad once, you summon the short grass. If you tap it in succession, you get the remaining long grass, snow, and sand. It’s extremely convenient, and it’s another alternative to the somewhat complicated menu for summoning grass, the shovel, and the watering can.

Race minigame

Earlier on I mentioned that Kirkhope’s music has been mostly recycled from the first game. To be fair, the new tracks are nothing short of beautiful. From the loading screen emphasizing the technological motif absent in the first game to the Pinartic and Dessert Desert music, Kirkhope’s classical style makes the experience a serene one. It’s sad to imagine that a future VP title will be devoid of Kirkhope’s musical art, but if there are any games in which he could end his Rare career with, he picked the right ones.

Just For Fun was already covered in the E3 impressions, and what I said back then still rings true: it’s a great timewaster and great for introducing new players into the game, but the main garden provides the challenge and is the core of what the game really stands for.

There’s one feature that I personally believe justifies Trouble in Paradise to be considered a sequel, and that’s Co-op mode. Co-op mode, as you may or may not know, was DLC that the VP1 team planned, but as they worked on what they could improve on, they focused on Trouble in Paradise rather than DLC. I for one am immensely glad they did.

Co-op is absolutely flawless. As Cook mentioned, you can set boundaries on your friends depending on your trust levels that range from just looking, planting and shoveling, and doing anything. I’m probably going to go out on a limb here and say that VP2 is the best co-op experience that Rare has ever offered their fanbase. There’s just something really fun about your friends adding their own personal flair to your garden, doing things that you yourself would never do and as a result reap the rewards. Yet it’s not just you. Everyone that’s in Co-op earns experience to go towards their garden, so it never feels like a waste visiting someone else’s garden and helping them out. When you go back, your experience is reflected by leveling up, attracting new piñatas, etc. Whoever designed this deserves a pat in the back. I’ve played about 5 hours in Co-op, and it logically is twice (or thrice or more) as fun than it is to tend to your garden alone. It’s not only a fun experience depending on your friends, but a rewarding one as well for everyone that’s involved.

So, in the end, while the original Viva Piñata established a new franchise and was incredibly fun, there could've been so much more. Trouble in Paradise, though, improves on the gripes of the original, adds the infectious Piñata Vision, and includes online Co-op. I won’t deny that there is a sufficient amount of content directly recycled from the first game, but with the new content added and the planned feature from the first appearing in this one included, is that entirely a bad thing? For those that never played the first one, I could not recommend this game enough. This is everything that Piñata 1 should’ve been and more.

Mark Mazzei's final verdict

"VPTiP mostly, if not entirely, makes up for the small expectations Piñata fans had for the first title"

9 out of 10

Alberto Riol's second opinion

Since Rare announced Trouble in Paradise, and still today after having played it, I haven't been able to see the game as a true sequel, but a expansion of the original. Maybe it's just because the concept is the same; this is not Nuts & Bolts trying to reinvent the franchise. But it's true that Rare has put in this new Piñata a lot of new stuff (extra species, toys, items, Vision Cards, minigames, Photo Mode, climates, multiplayer...) and improved -or even changed- some of the old elements (from the way you can now easily dig large areas with your shovel, to the harder romance minigames or the requirements to unblock piñatas using some of your resident species or helpers).

So, overall, Trouble in Paradise is not only larger, better and more addictive, but also cheaper, which makes the perfect formula to turn it into a must-have, even if you already have the first one. Although, if Rare decides to make another -true- sequel, they'll necessarily have to take a totally different route next time...

9 out of 10

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