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GCG Feature: 'Viva Pinata: Crime Of A Mache Nation'

The latest game design analysis for sister educational site Game Career Guide is a biting critique of Rare and Microsoft's Viva Piñata, with writer Azurelore Korrigan.

In this feature for Gamasutra sister educational site Game Career Guide, Azurelore Korrigan presents the latest in his series analyzing the game design of landmark titles, this time looking in depth at Rare and Microsoft's Viva Piñata, "a real-time strategy game involving the stewardship of a garden filled with collectible animals."

In her introduction to the piece, which is called 'Crime of a Mâché Nation: The Condescension of Viva Piñata', Korrigan goes on the attack regarding the Xbox 360-exclusive franchise, commenting:

"Viva Piñata was supposed to be Microsoft's mainstream breakthrough and Rare's return to form after years of... well, Star Fox Adventures. More than that, it was supposed to be the game that showed why Microsoft paid so much money for Rare, almost five years ago now. The problem is, the game wasn't really meant to carry all this weight. At its core, this is a modest, intimate, and difficult game - difficult in the sense that, despite its charm, it's more exclusive than it is inclusive."

Later on, she questions some of the cross-media tie-ins for the game and how they may have affected its execution:

"What's a little more worrisome is a Saturday morning veneer painted over the top of the subtler, more emotionally angular base coat. I had a friend over the first time I booted up the game. Within thirty seconds of its intro - "Viva Piñata / Filled with fun / (Filled with fun!)" - he asked me if there was a tie-in cartoon series. And... actually, yes there is, as ill-advised as it might be... it is blatantly obvious what parts of the game have been added in effort to appeal to kids drawn in from the licensing.

These elements - which mostly take the form of prerendered movies and voice-overs - tend to be loud, fast-paced, and subtly obnoxious in their effort to convince the player that the game is the hippest, most attitudinal thing in town. Also, the Piñatas all talk and appear to have distinct personalities. Contrast this with the game's dumb, grunting little beasts pitted against each other in a struggle for life and reproduction.

Though misrepresentational and kind of annoying, this barfy layer isn't too much of a crime. What's worse is that the mindset which ordered this shift in presentation seems to have also had an influence on the underlying design."


You can now read the entire GameCareerGuide feature on the subject, including more from Korrigan on the game's intriguing gameplay mechanisms but what, in her view, ended up being somewhat of a missed opportunity (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

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