I flipped on my TV this past Saturday, and what did I see? Lo and behold, it was Viva Piñata. Naturally, it was my journalistic duty to watch an entire episode. Seriously, it had nothing to do with me being a full grown adult who still feels a powerful need to watch cartoons. Microsoft has reiterated time and again that Viva Piñata is their most important game of 2006. Gears of War? That's peanuts to Viva Piñata. Microsoft hopes to hook millions of kiddies on the show, and thus the impending video game. The question is, will it work? Obviously, Microsoft's biggest example is Pokémon, a media juggernaut that managed to addict an entire generation of our youth. The model is fairly simple, develop a property that children will like, make a cartoon, make a videogame, and make plenty of merchandise to boot. The cartoon encourages kids to get the game and merchandise, which in turn encourages them to keep watching the show. It's a vicious cycle. Pokémon in particular did this very well -- hell, the damn catch phrase of the show is "gotta catch 'em all," essentially telling children that they must collect all the merchandise to be complete.
Watching Viva Piñata this past Saturday -- journalistic duty, remember -- I was actually surprised. There were no gimmicky marketing tag lines. Nothing screamed "buy this!" I'm not saying that's not in there at all, but plainly it wasn't Pokémon. So, there's no obvious marketing hook, but Viva Piñata has a couple things going for it. First, the show is all CG. Considering there's a new computer generated movie about animals coming out every other week, Viva Piñata fills a recognized niche. Second, the show's Mexican theme will likely resonate well with kids who've grown up on shows like Dora the Explorer and Mucha Lucha. Put simply, the show will probably do okay, which just leaves the game.
The guy in this video pretty much sums it up: "What the heck is the point of this game?" Viva Piñata, in theory, sits somewhere in the middle of Pokémon, Harvest Moon, and The Sims. You build up your garden in order to attract various piñatas. Different piñatas are attracted to different things so, achieving a balance would seem to be an integral part of the game. At this point, we don't know much more than that,
Update: As always, our readers keep us in line. Turns out that the framerate issues at Leipzig had nothing to do with the game. It was actually a hardware issue that wouldn't allow the demo to access the hard drive. Sorry, Viva Piñata. We still believe in you.