There was something wonderfully magical about Viva Piñata. It was easy for tending to one’s garden to border on obsession, as building a sustainable ecosystem through both the comfort of nurture and the ruthlessness of nature, had me running home from work at lunchtime to briefly play god from the comfort of a beautifully manicured garden. From the second my first Whirlm crawled into my garden, who I proceeded to affectionately and maturely name Bellend, Rare’s world was the place I’d go home to at the end of the day. It was my secret garden, complete with trampoline.
And from the humble beginnings of your first Whirlm the garden will grow and so too will the ecosystem of the creatures that inhabit it. All manner of delightful looking creatures will stumble across your garden, sniffing around the edges, wanting to call it their home. And it will become your life’s purpose to accomodate them, to find a way to coax a couple of heart-meltingly adorable Galagoogoos onto your land, and then to get them randy enough to have a good old root in their lavish hutch. And by Jove you’ll have the best damn pedigree Piñata in all the land!
But before all this, you have to learn both the wonders and vicissitudes of life, that it can be beautiful at the same time as it can be cruel. As your ambitions as a gardener grow, and the beautiful family of four Whirlms you’ve tended to aren’t enough anymore, you’ll become ruthless in your pursuit of garden biodiversity. First it’ll be a Sparrowmint. And then another. But at some point you’ll want more than just the Bellend family and a couple of Sparrowmints hopping around on your perfectly mowed lawn. You want a Fudgehog and you want it bad. And that’s the precise moment your mind shifts from ‘maternal’ to mega-lo-mania.
Just moments after you’ve seen the once lone Bellend raise a family of his own, with a wife and couple of kids roaming about the garden, you’re forced to the watch the family be torn apart. It all moves in slow motion as the Fudgehog that has been scoping the garden for days, watching the Bellend family from the outskirts of your prefab paradise, swoops in and attacks the unsuspecting littlest Whirlms. And a bloodbath ensues – or rather a lollybath – as the Fudgehog tears into paper exteriors to get to the deliciously sweet insides. But at tragic as it was watching the garden intruder tuck into little Bellend Junior and his sister Bellendette, that was the moment was when I realised that Viva Piñata was literally making me call the shots on nature, and decide which species would live and which would die and which I would sacrifice for the betterment of the garden. And so while you farm your flock of adorable and fluffy Goobaa it’s impossible to not feel guilty that you’re doing it knowing full well they’re head for the slaughter at the hands of a nearby carnivore.
For me Viva Piñata took hold of my innate desire to play god, while tapping into that little obsessive corner of my brain to keep me throughly occupied with the more micro curating of an aesthetically pleasing but functional garden. A beautiful flower here, a lovely water-fern there, a gate to ease racial tensions everywhere. But while the game masquerades as a nice little sim-like game with cute-as-a-button characters and myriad of items both decorative and function to fill your garden with, it is actually a game that rather covertly teaches you about the fragility of biodiversity. And the worst part is that every step of the ecosystem’s food chain lives or dies by your choices.
No one said playing god would be easy.