I liked the first Viva Pinata. I liked it quite a bit actually. It was the first game my wife and I found ourselves fighting for TV time to play. So when I heard there was a wholly legitimate sequel on the way that would support the Vision Camera and add in a new trapping element? That’s when I knew that, despite the crack-like addiction I would likely form to the franchise again, I had to give it a shot.

For the most part Trouble in Paradise plays exactly like it’s predecessor. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand VP was a solid title and didn’t need much re-tooling. The few gripes people had about the original have largely been addressed. On the other hand, playing Trouble in Paradise feels a little too familiar. The new additions make for some refreshing changes at first, but quickly begin to feel like a few bells and whistles that were stuck on to justify calling it a sequel. More than anything Trouble in Paradise feels like a standalone VP expansion pack, and that’s not a bad thing. The pricing feels right for the package offered, and it’s giving VP a new lease on life. So many people overlooked the original that it’s great to see Microsoft give these papery party animals a second chance to find an audience. Considering so few of you picked up VP the first time, I think it’s time I cleared up a few things about what Viva Pinata is and what Viva Pinata isn’t.

Viva Pinata is not Pokemon. It’s a comparison that people were making long before the first game ever shipped, and it’s a comparison that they’re still making now that the second one is on shelves. The few similarities that the two share are completely superficial. Yes, both IP’s are tied into kids shows. Yes, both feature a “gotta’catchem’all!” mentality. But that’s where it ends. Pokemon is a linear story based around turn-based RPG. Viva Pinata is a garden simulator all about the delicate balance of life. The two games couldn’t be farther apart.

While this isn’t a review of the first game, the two titles share similar play mechanics. For the next few paragraphs what you’ll read can easily apply to both Viva Pinata and Trouble in Paradise. If you’re familiar with the first game, you can mosey on down past the refresher and onto the meat and potatoes of Paradise.

VP puts you in the role of a gardener tending a small patch of land. Your goal is to create an environment that will be inviting to a vast variety of creatures, encourage them to settle, and see that they procreate. Each creature has three sets of requirements for the three moments in their time with you. There is a set of requirements to make them visit, a set to make them reside, and a set to make them “romance.” For example, having some water and corn in your garden might be enough to get a Quackberry to visit, but they’ll need to eat some bread to want to stay. Other secret requirements can turn them into “variant” pinatas that become worth a whole lot more.

As the game goes on, you’ll find more and more pinatas hunt smaller pinatas as part of their diet, and you’ll need to react accordingly. Should I kick the sparrowmint out because it keeps eating my whirlms? Or should I try and mate more whirlms to keep the food chain moving along? Pretty quickly things move from Harvest Moon style farming sim to straight-up Molyneux-esque god game. Economics and happiness indicators also start to play a role as you’ll be selling off some of your pinatas to raise money for the needs of others, and you’ll be sending certain species off to parties when their happiness reaches “maximum candiosity.”

While there are a few other tactics involved in the actual gameplay, that should be more than enough to wet your appetite. So what’s new in Trouble in Paradise?

The first thing you’ll notice as you boot up the game is that a new mode is available for play. “Just for Fun” is exactly as the name would suggest, and a welcome option for a lot of players out there. Contrary to it’s candy-coated appearances Viva Pinata is a really deep game. With the tie-in to the kids show a lot of people assume this would be a childrens title, but then they bring it home to find it’s blisteringly difficult for little ones which doesn’t translate into a lot of fun. Just for Fun mode strips the difficulty out of the game and lets you just explore your surroundings with very little consequence. If you have a non-gamer in the house who’s intrigued by your play, this is the mode you want to set them up in.

A new trapping element has been added to the game as well. The Pinarctic and Dessert Desert are new areas that allow you to lay baited traps to capture animals not native to the earthy area of your garden and bring them home. It’s a simple addition, but it makes for a nice vacation when you’re pulling your hair out in your garden.

The biggest addition to the game this time around is the inclusion of Pinata Vision. Pinata Vision allows you to scan cards into your Live Vision Camera to bring new and customized pinatas and items into your garden. The cards can be found on the Viva Pinata website and printed. You can also save your own customized pinatas (variants with accessories and whatnot) to the VP website for others to rate, download and place in their game.

Pinata Vision is an interesting aspect that I can’t decide how I feel about. On the one hand I’m really excited to see Microsoft taking the initiative on community-based creation, and I love the ease of use. So long as you’re in a well lit room the cards scan with zero difficulty. You can even scan them right from your computer screen if you have one in the room. On the other hand, the cards can really upset the delicate balance of the game. Adding in pinatas that you wouldn’t have normally come across until higher levels can really knock things out of whack. As well, certain pinatas (like the recent Killer Instinct cards) have a really high financial value attached to them, so it’s easy to cheat the system and scan in pinatas just to cash them in. It’s easy to use the “in the end you’re only cheating yourself” argument, but I still don’t like that it’s an option.

All in all, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise offers an experience that’s remarkably like it’s predecessor. With more than 30 new pinatas, the opportunity to trap and capture pinatas and the inclusion of Pinata Vision, there’s just enough new here to warrant a purchase for VP veterans at the mid-range price that the title is being marketed at. If you’re a Viva-virgin though? It’s an absolute steal.

Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise is exclusively for the Xbox 360 at $39.99 and is available on store shelves now.