Tech: Viva Piñata
The Xbox 360 is known for violent shooters. From "Gears of War" to "Call of Duty" to "Halo" - if it involves explosions, tanks, and machine guns, than you'll find it on Xbox. Next to those testosterone fests, "Viva Piñata" feels almost like a joke - who on Earth would enjoy a game that's about growing a garden and raising cute, stylized piñatas?
"Viva Piñata" is an gardening simulation game that's one part Pokémon and one part Harvest Moon. You'll grow fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables in order to attract new piñata animals to your garden. Along the way, you'll pick up new abilities, encounter new foes, and learn more about the ultra-saccharine game world.
The game is addictive in a maddening, OCD kind of way. It's open-ended, and you can't really "lose," but if you want the highest gardener rank, you're going to have to literally farm certain plants and animals, as well as experiment with a nearly endless list of combinations of seeds, flowers, and fertilizer to get your animals to "evolve." It's ostensibly a kids' game, but there's a lot going on here beneath the hood. The first time I tried to get my two Mousemallows to breed, I realized that the nearby Syrupents were scaring them away. That kind of detail helps to make the world plausible.
There are a number of things keeping "Viva Piñata" away from all-time greatness. The interface has some annoying quirks; every time you want to buy seed or fertilizer, for instance, you're going to have to endure a separate loading screen (you buy seed A LOT in this game, so you can imagine how much of a problem this becomes). Every time you breed your piñatas, you have to complete a tedious minigame (you breed animals A LOT in this game, too).
"Viva Piñata" also lacks some of the complexity of more grown-up sims, like SimCity - there's no real penalties for jamming lots of piñata into a small space, for instance, and you usually don't have to worry too much about feeding your piñatas once they're residents of your garden. Still, this is one of the few Xbox games the whole family can play, and it's charming overall.