Rare created quite a storm with the creation of Viva Piñata for the Xbox 360 last year, being loved by adults and children alike. The kids loved it for the colours; the adults loved it for its surprising depth. In true money-making form then, a new game based in the world of Piñatas was created, but it’s not the sequel so many craved. Instead Rare have passed on development to Krome Studios, creating a party game aimed primarily at children this time. However just like the last game before it, can it appeal to the adults who buy the game, or is this simply a step too far for the lovable critters?
A demo was released onto the Xbox Live Marketplace prior to the game’s release, which may have taken some people by surprise. It was fun, provided just enough entertainment for everyone and it seemed to do the job in securing a few sales. Why is it then that no-one plays this game online? Probably because the demo was far more promising than the full game.
The game consists of a wide variety of mini games, ranging from racing to who can eat the most apples in the alloted time. As is typical with most party games, there will be mini games that will be loved and loathed, although Party Animals seems to have more of the latter as opposed to the more favourable former. Especially if you play alone.
There’s actually nothing here for the lone gamer at all. Most party games in years gone by offer something for a single player experience, but when the AI is so laughably bad all the way through that they provide no challenge at all, there’s only the Achievements that make this worthwhile for a solitary experience. Even children would expect more of a challenge than the crap that is presented here. Thanks to also not being able to find a single game online to join, be it Ranked or just a Player Match, there’s no-one around to play the game with, and thus you’ll end up throwing it against a wall in disgust.
Local gaming it is then. Thankfully this makes the game a tad more bearable. It’s best to try and locate three others to join you, otherwise the AI will make up the numbers meaning they are all but meaningless. Having someone around to make the experience more bearable works, and there are times when the game can have its charms and a rare laugh may be heard from within the room. It’s rare, but it happens.
The game divides each of the rounds up with a racing game and then a couple of others, depending on whether you’ve selected to do a Short, Medium or Long game. A tip for anyone who may consider buying this: don’t do a Long game. It’s so long that it becomes boring, as there isn’t enough variety here to keep people interested for that long. Medium is just about right, although depending on what games it selects, that too can feel like a lifetime.
The racing sections themselves are average. At best. At worst, they are baffling and incredibly frustrating. You can be in the lead by seemingly miles, only for the other human players to get some ridiculous power-up that propels them to the front of the pack and win the race. It’s nigh on impossible to lead from start to finish; a better tactic is to start off poorly, gain all the best powerups and storm home at the end. There’s no explanation as to what any of the power-ups do either, so more often than not experimentation is required, which can prove both detrimental to winning as well as vital. You simply don’t know, and cannot tell. Other poor minigames include a hot potato game, where you have to try and hold on to the bomb for a little while to gain some points. If it explodes, you lose points. Yes, this is in the game. No, there is no strategic element at all. It’s utterly crap, and utterly lacking in imagination. Or perhaps repeatedly pressing A to eat an apple is more your thing? Nope, thought not.
Are there any mini games that are fun? The short answer is sadly no, not for the adult gamer. The long answer is still no, but there a couple that might prove enjoyable; only one or two though. There’s a burping game which requires a series of button presses to build up a big belch, then the player unleashes the gas to blow a boat towards the finish line. It’s amusing the first few times, honest. Plus you earn an Achievement should you be the first to cross the line, which is a bonus in itself. There are more than fifty mini games, and they all lack creativity, falling into the dark depths of mediocrity. Where’s the strategy element of trying to outwit an opponent to make them mess up and hand you the win? Sadly it’s not present, ever.
The graphics, just like the rest of the game, are also poor. It’s almost surprising considering the excellent effort of last year’s game, but here, well, it’s just annoyingly bad, unless you bother to watch a couple of cutscenes. There’s tearing on screen, there’s pop ups all over the place and it’s generally very weak. Even the details aren’t all that special, and when we’ve recently been treated to games such as Call of Duty 4 and Assassin’s Creed, it makes your eyes bleed.
There is a little ray of hope though, coming from the voice-acting department. They are all there from the original game, and all provide some almost-amusing moments with their quirky comments. It won’t do as a stand up comedy, but when the rest of the game is a pile of shit, it’s promising that at least one part managed to break away and be just a little different.
It has to be remembered that this game is not targeted at hardcore gamers though. That’s abundantly clear. For casual gamers who want to get a few friends together for a quick laugh, they could do worse than this (Fuzion Frenzy 2 perhaps being a contender), however there are better options (Scene It?). No-one will care much for the cute critters you play and race as, and the mini games are so bad that they will at least provide smiles for everyone playing. Achievement whores may also want to dip in for a few points; because the AI will be non existent, you should breeze through every mini game that Korme Studios throws at you.
Replayability wise, there are some very weak incentives to keep gamers coming back, aside from Achievements. Bonus content can be unlocked as well as gamer pictures throughout the course of winning games, however the bonus content is pretty meaningless, just a bunch of photos to look at once then completely forget about.
Viva Piñata: Party Animals could have been good. Cut it down and slap it onto the Xbox Live Arcade and Krome Studios may have been onto a winner. As it is, this is a full retail game with a full price tag, and as such sucks because of it. Everyone quite rightly expects to get a decent game for their money, one with a lasting experience and an enjoyable one at that. Sadly for Krome Studios, they have failed. In a big way. Single players will be disgusted at the AI and lack of options and variety on offer. There’s zero substance here. Multiplayer gives a short-lived fun experience, with the mini games making players laugh for all the wrong reasons. The mini games lack imagination that we see in other party games such as Mario Party which actually has something to go back for. It’s a sad day when a promising environment created by Viva Piñata last year comes crashing back down to earth with shit like this, but it’s happened. Krome Studios need to look hard at themselves, and we as gamers must pray they don’t attempt anything like this again. Give it back to Rare; they proved they know what they are doing.
Final Score: 4 out of 10 - Poor (How do we rate games?)