Some games are so well-suited to a particular platform it's almost impossible to separate them. Whenever you think of Street Fighter II it's highly likely that you will imagine yourself cradling a SNES pad in your sweaty palms, and your memories of Tetris are probably intrinsically tied-in with the classic monochrome Game Boy.
However, sometimes the opposite is true; many classic games are released on hardware that is wholly unsuitable and this prevents them from truly flourishing and reaching the audience they deserve. Rare's quirky life simulator Viva Piñata is one such example.
Released on the Xbox 360 in 2006, Viva Piñata was about as far detached from the console's core gaming demographic as you could possibly get; 360 owners wanted high-octane action experiences, not some gaily-coloured Pokemôn wannabe. As a result the game sold relatively poorly, despite being arguably one the best titles for the machine.
Thankfully this sorry state of affairs has now been rectified; Viva Piñata is on a format where it should feel entirely at home: the Nintendo DS.
Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise is essentially a miniaturised version of the Xbox original, although it carries many improvements seen in the recently released 360 sequel Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. While certain sacrifices have naturally been made in order to shoehorn the experience into technically humble hardware, the vital ingredients that made the 360 edition so appealing are all present and in many cases are amplified by the fact that your piñata-rearing exploits are no longer confined to your living room.
The general aim is to create a welcoming habitat for piñatas. For the uninitiated, these are colourful paper animals that contain sweets. In the real world they are used in Mexico and other South American countries to celebrate events such as birthdays and Christmas, where they are sadly doomed to be struck repeatedly with sticks by annoying, e-number fuelled children until they spill their candy-cane contents.
In the realm of Viva Piñata, these ordinarily inanimate objects are imbued with life and it's your job to take a patch of land and fashion it into an environment where piñatas can thrive. Like the 360 version, Pocket Paradise doesn't attempt to impose strict rules for the player to follow - this is essentially a 'sand box' style experience where you're left to you own devices.
To begin with your plot of land is pretty uninviting, packed with rubbish and unsightly dirt. You must first clear away all the detritus in order to attract potential residents. You achieve this by picking up your trusty shovel tool and digging away at the rubble. It's here that the benefits of playing this game on the DS really become apparent; the touchscreen interface makes performing every task as intuitive as possible and Rare has created a menu system that's refreshingly unobtrusive without sacrificing options.
To acquire the correct tool - be it shovel, watering can or bag of grass seeds - you merely have to tap the wheelbarrow icon in the top-right corner of the screen and several sub-menus appear. Selecting the shovel icon will then expand another set of options, such as dig, poke and smash. Once you've selected your desired choice the menu promptly collapses, meaning that you'll never find your view impeded by interfering icons and drop-down boxes.
Another excellent addition afforded by the unique DS hardware is the map screen. Using this you can effortlessly keep track of events within your garden domain; the map shows where each piñata is at any one time and a simple tap of the stylus will instantly transport you to the animal's exact location - anyone who recalls the sheer chaos of the 360 version will surely appreciate this enhancement.
Once you've created a green and pleasant land you'll find that piñatas begin to take interest and stroll into your garden. At this point you should consider building them some kind of abode so that they will feel comfortable. Also, houses are vital to fostering piñata families - when two of the same type appear and certain parameters are met, they will mate and produce offspring. Naturally, to ensure gameplay variety these conditions vary from piñata to piñata.
The piñatas themselves aren't entirely autonomous however; you have a certain degree of control over them at any one time. Tapping a piñata and then dragging the stylus instructs it where to go. You can order it to eat certain objects, induce it to enter a house you've constructed, or instruct mate with another piñata using this control method.
While it all sounds rather idyllic it's worth noting that even cute-looking piñatas get into arguments and just like the real world there's a definite pecking order to be adhered to. Smaller piñatas are eaten by larger ones (indeed, it's often a requirement before they will be convinced to mate) and although it's tempting to prevent this you have to embrace it if you wish to gain access to all the breeds contained within the game - of which there are 60 different types.
Other elements - such as planting seeds, acquiring romance sweets and combat against nefarious bad guys that sometimes encroach on your garden setting - all add to the game, but essentially the key intention here is to keep your piñatas contented whilst making your patch of land as attractive to new breeds as possible.
It may sound straightforward, but it's so addictive it should probably come with some kind of government health warning. In fact it can all get a little too demanding at times. Younger gamers, drawn in by the colourful visuals and spin-off CGI TV show (several minutes of which make their way into the game itself as FMV cut scenes) may find it all a bit intimidating at first (and what they will make of the suggestive 'bouncing' house animation that occurs whenever two piñatas mate, we cannot guess) but thankfully Rare has catered for them with a full-bodied tutorial mode and the stress-free 'Playground' option.
When Rare was sold to Microsoft many fans feared that the company would never again work on Nintendo hardware but thankfully that hasn't proven to be the case. Diddy Kong Racing was an excellent way for the talented British studio to open its DS account but Viva Piñata is even better.
To put it simply, this game was born to be a DS title and while this scaled-down port lacks the visual refinement of its home console parent it arguably trumps the 360 version in terms of sheer enjoyment; the touchscreen control method is nothing short of genius and the fact that you can tend your garden 'on the go' really does grant the game a new lease of life.
After months in the wilderness, we can finally be confident that Viva Piñata has found its true home.