Thursday, 30 May 2013

Don't beat 'em, join 'em - about Viva Piñata

Why, yes, I am back. And I say; let's talk about Viva Piñata.

The games are just about the most beautiful thing to ever grace the Xbox 360. And maybe PC and DS too. Quirky, colourful, and creative, it's a sort of simulation game where you basically build a garden which attracts live animal piñatas. If they like your garden enough, they take residence and you can build them houses, name them, even dress them up in cool costumes, romance them so you can get more of the same species, to eventually send them to a party. (These functions were a lot more elaborate in the sequel.) Meanwhile, Professor Pester and his ruffians and sour Piñatas attempt to wreak havoc.

Some of its best points, to me at least, are its colourfulness, and its heavy stylization. It's not meant to be realistic. Instead, everything is vibrant and charmingly cartoony, and adorned with nifty patterns. From the smallest flower to the biggest tree - even the grass. But somehow, it is still believable, something Rare is very good at. They dare to be different, and that's exactly where its charms come from. Aside all this, it has a lot of shout-outs to past Rare games, which is awesome.

And of course, the music. The amazing soundtrack as composed by Grant Kirkhope, who also composed Banjo-Kazooie's and Donkey Kong 64's soundtrack, is both whimsical and atmospheric. I'm not exaggerating when I say it made me cry sometimes simply because it is so beautiful.

I have been mesmerized by this lovely game for years now, ever since I got the original on the PC, and later bought an Xbox 360 and played Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, its sequel. Lately, I've begun picking it up again and I'm having the most fun I've had in quite a while. Trouble in Paradise can be considered as some kind of 'expansion pack', as it has everything from the original game, but more, such as over 20 new Piñata species, more things to do, new regions like the Piñarctic and the Dessert Desert, and a lot of new items. Even if it's a standalone game.

So anyway, beautiful games. But the real reason I picked it up again was because a group of friends of mine I know from role playing on Tumblr were all excited about it, and chatting about it on our Skype group. I remembered I had the game as well and I played it again. But what they were also quite enthusiastic about was the animated series. Yep. I originally dismissed it because I had the dreadful 'hurr hurr, it's not the same as the games so it sucks!' attitude. You know, the same thing people think about the Donkey Kong Country cartoon, which I'm presumably one of the biggest fans of. Now I've lost that attitude, which is for the better.

Anyway, I heard good things about it and decided to check it out - with the open mind to end all open minds.

After having seen only one episode, I was hooked. It was no Donkey Kong Country.

In fact, I daresay I liked it better than Donkey Kong Country.

And yep, this is quite something coming from me. I do still love the Donkey Kong Country cartoon and it is terribly unfair to compare the two cartoons, seeing as DKC came out in the late nineties and Viva Piñata more or less ten years later.

Viva Piñata in general was a collaboration between Rare ltd. and 4Kids, a company that's sadly not around anymore. Rare had the visuals and theme, 4Kids had the voice talent. They both went their own way with these things, but stayed surprisingly close to each other. Because of this, the canons of the show and the game can easily be clicked together without making it appear weird, something that's definitely not possible with DKC.

Let's get to the actual cartoon. The humans from the game that help the player are absent for the show (sans Pester and his Ruffians, but we'll get to it later) and everything seems populated by the Piñatas themselves, and they can talk and walk just like any other cartoon animal. Among its primary characters are Paulie Pretztail, Fergie Fudgehog, Franklin Fizzlybear, Hudson Horstachio and Langston Lickatoad. Yep, they all have alliterative names. The show is based around humor and a bit of adventure. There's also Professor Pester, who's the average Evil Villain and a lot more amusing in the cartoon than in the games, often accompanied by his dim-witted henchmen, the Ruffians. (He reminds me slightly of the cartoon incarnation of K. Rool at some parts, which is a good thing, of course.) Episodes are around ten minutes each and they deal with simple but amusing plots.

Yeah, this is all you're getting from me for now art-wise. My Photoshop hates me right now.

Some particular things I like are its cartoony effects, the jokes and the fourth-wall-breaking. Especially the latter, something Rare is notorious of doing. The voice acting is fairly good as well and the slightly more humanized Piñatas make for some fun characters. They also use music from the games on occasion, along with other musical pieces that fit in seamlessly.

I'm not supposed to compare it to the games, but I still find myself doing so because frankly, they are really similar. And it's wonderful. I laughed so hard at some segments, it's actually a really clever show and disgustingly underrated, along with the games. It's a bit sad when you realized Rare wanted to expand upon the franchise, but didn't get the chance..

I recently bought a DVD as well with episodes in Dutch, but I have yet to determine if the Dutch voices are anything good. At least I can show it to my friends who are not that well-versed in English. And I've heard that in the Dutch dub, Fergie has the same voice actor as Rigby from Regular Show, my favourite modern cartoon, so that's pretty cool.

Anyway. I say; check out the cartoon if you like Viva Piñata and have an open mind.

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