by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Viva Pi & ntilde;ata:360 & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & V & lt;/span & iva Pi & ntilde;ata is a game about pi & ntilde;ata, meaning it's a game in which 5-year-old players can bash the main characters to death and get away with it. A sickly cheer even rises from their confetti ashes. If I'm lucky, a few pieces of candy will remain behind on the grass.

Whacking is almost Viva Pi & ntilde;ata's only genuinely pi & ntilde;ata-related activity. During most of the game's interminable cycle of days and nights, I'm busy ordering the construction of new pi & ntilde;ata houses, going shopping, growing flowers, giving chocolate coins to charity and fending off attacks from evil pi & ntilde;ata.

Pi & ntilde;ata in Viva Pi & ntilde;ata are wild animals covered in fringed crepe paper. They creep from the countryside surrounding my garden and poke their beaks, noses and snouts in to see what I'm growing. If they like what they see, they stay and become my tedious responsibility.

Some, such as sparrows and spiders, are helpful residents, playing a part in the tiny food chains developing among the game's plant and pi & ntilde;ata life. Others, such as foxy pi & ntilde;ata, are obviously included for the cute and entertaining factor and not much else. Some are trophies like elephants and others are pests like slugs. A few whacks from my trusty shovel decide whether they stay intact or not.

Occasionally, a place known only as Pi & ntilde;ata Central requests one of my pi & ntilde;ata to be destroyed as the guest of honor at a party. I duly ship them off, collect some chocolate coins in payment and then inexplicably greet them when they return, unbashed.

I can also sell pi & ntilde;ata I've raised, making much of the game about the pursuit of sex. Any player who hasn't yet encountered the topic of where babies come from will need an intervention by the time a few pi & ntilde;ata have started doing what the game calls "the love dance."

The cycle of breeding, eating and being bashed to pieces is short, better to accommodate a kid's attention span. No overly complex food chains seem to be needed to draw new, more daring pi & ntilde;ata into my garden. I simply need to keep breeding and feeding the ones I have.

THE GOOD: Viva Pi & ntilde;ata is one of the best-looking games on the 360. Every object in the game is crafted and shaped, covered with unique textures and animated with care. The color scheme is carefully managed to make each pi & ntilde;ata distinct, and to draw my attention to changes in the landscape from across my garden. Credit for this goes to Rare, the game development studio that was once the prize of Nintendo until being purchased by Microsoft and forced to make games like Viva Pi & ntilde;ata.

THE BAD: Life slows down to a crawl in Viva Pi & ntilde;ata's gardens; perpetual fussing is required to move things along. Pi & ntilde;ata won't breed without help, and plants require digging, watering and whacking just to complete their lifecycles. On top of that, screens full of text periodically interrupt the gardening with announcements about the game's fiddlier elements. Even in a hodge-podge game like this, the interruptions keep me from ever feeling that I've achieved anything more than putting a few seeds and pi & ntilde;ata together.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Die, Viva Pi & ntilde;ata, die!

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