Hands-On Preview: It's my party and I'll belch if I want too
The original Viva Pi?ata was a bit of an enigma: it had artwork and style attractive to kids, but game mechanics geared more towards adults. Gamers and critics alike gave it positive reviews, but sales were mysteriously dreary. However, Microsoft is not a company that gives up so easily on an IP ? especially their only family-oriented IP ? and so is set to release a more accessible addition to the franchise with Viva Pi?ata: Party Animals.
As the title suggests, this will not be another strategy/simulation like the original but rather a family-friendly party game; think Mario Party but with cute pi?atas. And that's not the only change; Microsoft handed development to Australian game veterans Krome Studios, who are best known for the Spyro and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger games, and are currently working on the upcoming Hellboy and the PS2/Wii version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Krome has a great reputation for making fun games and Party Animals is looking no different.
The game is actually based on the animated TV show rather than the original Rare title, and stars Hudson Horstachio, Franklin Fizzlybear, Paulie Pretztail and Fergy Fudgehog. You choose your favorite and can play with up to three other friends via split-screen or Xbox Live. Players can hop in and out at any time, with the AI seamlessly taking over when a player leaves.
Players compete in over 40 mini-games, which are split between a dozen or so races. The races are the main attraction but instead of zipping around tracks in karts, you instead run on foot. Your pi?atas are still pretty fast, however, as you guide them along the trippy cartoon tracks using standard acceleration, brake and power slide controls, along with jump and weapon buttons. Just like in Mario Kart, you collect powerups that you can use to your benefit (like a rocket booster or giant butterfly wings that let you fly) or to your opponents' detriment (like throwing a glob of sticky honey on the track or using a flashbang grenade). The races are fun, filled with ramps, jumps, bridges and even bizarre obstacles like angry snowmen who will grab you if you get too close. However, the handling is way too twitchy, which can send your pi?ata galloping over a cliff instead of gently negotiating a turn. Oops. Adults can certainly adjust to this twitchy handling but for kids caught up in the excitement of the race it might lead to some frustration. Hopefully Krome will ratchet down the sensitivity in the final release.
In between races you will compete in brief but fun mini-games that have you mash the crap out of your controller's face buttons and give you a nasty thumb callus. We've only played six mini-games but they all have their charms. First up was Superstar Smash, where your pi?atas have to swing a stick to bash open a hanging pi?ata. Who knew these guys were so violent against their own kind? ?Hey, Bob, mind if we string you up and crack you open with a stick?? Anyway, the key to winning is timing since the pi?ata swings realistically as you hit it, so timing your strikes properly will help ensure you're the first to kill Bob and spill his guts ? er, break open your pi?ata.
Burp's Ahoy will no doubt be a favorite among kids and drunken rednecks. Players sit on a dock and chug soda pop. By rapidly flicking between two buttons, you release a powerful belch that propels a toy sailboat across the water; first over the finish line wins. Hey, if they used this format for the America's Cup yacht races, TV ratings would go through the roof.
Short Fuse is a hot potato type of game where players earn candy but only while holding a bomb. You can toss the bomb to anyone you like when your nerve runs out but if you get too greedy and the bomb blows up in your face, you lose all your candy and must start over from scratch. Sure, it would be more fun if other players can scavenge your exploded candy guts but this is
a kids' game after all.
Caramel Apple Gobble is an apple eating contest where you mash the A button to eat as fast as you can while you use the thumbstick to rotate the apple; first to eat all their apples wins.
Raisant Stomp has everyone in a corral stomping the crap out of raisant bugs. This one is quite fun since everyone is competing together to get a limited number of raisants ? and smashing bugs never gets old.
Ruffian Tumble is a game where you control a Ruffian rather than your pi?ata. Everyone is in a corral and you basically head-butt your opponents to make them release candy for you to collect. It's silly fun but you have to be aligned just right to make a hit.
All mini-games take only one or two minutes to complete so you can enjoy the fun in little bite-sized chunks. You earn points in each mini-game and race depending on your placement, and the person with the most points at the end of the entire game is crowned the top party animal.
Visually, Party Animals is very impressive with bright colors, cute characters and a lively cartoon world. The Viva Pi?ata franchise certainly stands out with its unique style and Party Animals is no different. You might be surprised to learn the game is built from the ground up with Krome's proprietary technology and uses little from Rare's original game except the artwork. This appears to be a good decision since the game looks great and unlike anything else on the 360.