Dan Green – Hudson Horstachio, King Roario
Brian Mallard – Paulie Pretztail
David Wills – Fergy Fudgehog
Marc Thompson – Franklin Fizzlybear
Kathleen Delaney – Tina Twingersnap
Jamie McGonnigal – Teddington Twingersnap
Rebecca Soler – Ella Elephanilla, Simone Cinnamonkey
Eric Stuart – Les Galagoogoo, Pecky Pudgeon, Ruffians
Mike Pollock – Langston Lickatoad
David Brimmer – Professor Pester
The player takes control of an unseen being whose job it is to tend to a neglected piece of land on Piñata Island. Using a variety of gardening tools, they get the plot ready for the planting of various kinds of plants and erection of structures and habitats. When certain requirements are met, the garden will attract any one of 60 species of Piñatas to come visit (based on real animals, but in wild colors and given cute designations). Meeting further requirements would result in that Piñata becoming a resident. If two Piñatas of the same species take up residence (they have no gender) and their requirements for mating are met, they will perform a “romance dance” that will lead to an egg being delivered by Storkos (a superpowered human woman who retrieved the eggs from Egg Mountain, which the Piñatas had trouble doing themselves). The player can then hatch the egg or send it off to another player. The ultimate goal is to keep the Piñatas happy and healthy.
The game isn’t just all gardening and mating, however. To add a challenge there are antagonists in the form of Ruffians led by the masked human Professor Pester and Sour Piñatas, all of whom want to wreak havoc on your garden or harm your resident Piñatas. Pester and his Ruffians can be chased off by purchasing certain items or siccing a particular Piñata on them, while Sours could additionally be trapped and tamed into being good Piñatas. Another threat comes from the natural food chain of the island, known as the “doughnut of life”. Some Piñatas are predator and prey to each other and must be eaten for a requirement. If both types are residents, however, they won’t do that unless told, but fights between them could still break out. And what gardening game would be complete without the constant threats of weeds popping up and destroying your hard work?
Viva Piñata was developed by British studio Rare, who was responsible for hit Nintendo games like Donkey Kong Country until Microsoft purchased them outright. Co-founder Tim Stamper came up with the idea of the game for the handheld Pocket PC platform in 2002 and started up a development team on it. After the studio’s acquisition, development moved to the Xbox and eventually the Xbox 360 for its enhanced graphics. Wanting a unified style, the developers settled on the piñata motif which excited them not only because piñatas were rare in their home country, but the idea of their being filled with candy opened up all-new gameplay possibilities. Microsoft’s only instruction to the team was to keep it family-friendly, as they sought to make it the Xbox’s signature franchise and use it to increase its market appeal.
The game was released on November 9, 2006. In order to meet their deadline, Rare ended up having to cut partial ideas leaving the game incomplete in their eyes. However, the game was well-received by players and performed within the company’s expectations, making it an internal success. In promotion of the system and the game, Microsoft collaborated with Six Flags Mexico to build a 48-foot (15m) tall and 52-foot (16m) long Piñata modeled after a Horstachio (a horse); the largest-recorded piñata ever built. Microsoft greenlit a sequel, which Rare saw as an opportunity to make a more definitive version of the original. They built upon the work they had already done, adding in a new cooperative multiplayer mode, Xbox Live Vision Camera support, more types of Piñatas and areas to catch them, a new plot, fashion show and racing minigames and the ability to teach the Piñatas tricks. Trouble in Paradise was released on September 2, 2008 to generally favorable reviews that praised the additions but felt it was too similar to its predecessor.
As part of their franchising, Microsoft sought to bring their properties to television. They partnered with 4Kids Entertainment and offered them several options from their library. Seeing potential in Viva Piñata, 4Kids selected it before the game was even released. 4Kids worked closely with Rare in making the show; basing the character designs on the 3D models used in the game, including tips on how to interact with the in-game Piñatas into the stories, and having original project lead Gregg Mayles approve each script for their applicability to the game.
Like the game, the series was set on Piñata Island, home to sentient Piñatas. The Piñatas went about their days munching on candy and gardening until they reach their full Candiosity, which was detected by a Candiosity Meter that operated like a scale, or their own personal Piñatameter that resembled a smart phone. The meter was monitored by Piñata Central, which fielded requests for Piñatas at human parties. Once full of their limit of candy, a Piñata was loaded into the Cannoñata (a massive cannon) and fired to a party where they were smashed open by the guests. Upon returning to the island, the Piñata was reassembled by robots and they resumed their life until the next time they’re full. Certain Piñatas were exempt from attending parties, such as royalty like King Roario (a lion, voiced by Dan Green) or older more fragile Piñatas in retirement.
The show focused on a primary set of inhabitants: Hudson Horstachio (Green), one of the most popular and famous Piñatas on the island whose ego often needed to be reigned in; Paulie Preztail (Brian Mallard), a red-tailed fox that was clever and no-nonsense with a skill for cooking and a dislike of parties; Fergy Fudgehog (David Wills), a hedgehog who loved candy but had a deathly fear of parties and did whatever it took to get out of them; Franklin Fizzlybear (Marc Thompson using a surfer accent), a laid back grizzly bear who loved to surf and draw portraits of the others; Tina and Teddington Twingersnap (Kathleen Delaney and Jamie McGonnigal, respectively), a two-headed serpent that had sub-par gardening skills and always argued with each other; Ella Elephanilla (Rbecca Soler), an elephant who suffered from short-term memory loss and loved ballet; Les Galagoogoo (Eric Stuart, who also served as voice director), a Galago whose intelligence was often overshadowed by the fact his words came out as high-pitched gibberish (although the others seemed to understand him, they just ignored him); and Langston Lickatoad (Mike Pollock), a toad who was the representative of Piñata Central and responsible for getting a full Piñata to the Cannoñata.
As in the game, the Piñatas were often accosted by Professor Pester (David Brimmer) who concocted a variety of plans to trap and break open the Piñatas in order to get at the candy they contained. His plans were often ruined by his bumbling henchmen, the Ruffians (Stuart), who also led to Pester accidentally creating the Sours. Another antagonist was the Great Bonboon, a baboon that pretended to be an all-knowing guru and tried various schemes to steal the other Piñatas’ candy. Other characters included Chortles Chippopotamus (Sean Schemmel), a hippopotamus that believed himself to be a comedian; Pecky Pudgeon (Stuart), a gossiping photojournalist pigeon; Simone Cinnamonkey (Soler), Hudson’s resourceful monkey agent; Prewitt Profitamole (Mike MacRae), a mole who was the only mechanic on the island and an inventor, and who performed repairs on Piñatas; Dr. Quincy Quackenberry, a duck and the resident psychologist called on to cure everything that ailed the others; Hailey Horstachio, Hudson’s biggest rival; and Beverly Badgesicle, a badger that was Hudson’s biggest and most obsessive fan.
Viva Piñata debuted on FOX on August 26, 2006 as part of the 4Kids TV programming block. The series was developed by Norman Grossfeld and Lloyd Goldfine, and was a co-production between 4Kids, Microsoft, YTV (where it would air in Canada), and Bardel Entertainment, who animated it. Each episode consisted of two segments written by Anne D. Bernstein, David Steven Cohen, Robert David, Randolph Heard, John T. Reynolds, Eric Scott and Mike de Seve. The characters’ designs were adapted for the show Ryan Cummings, Jason Cheng, Edmond Mai, Shayan Naziripour, and Carolyn Wong. The series’ music was composed by John Siegler, Mike Brady, Lou Cortelezzi, Sue Shufro, Elik Alvarez, Peter Lurye, Matt McGuire, Ralph Schuckett, Freddy Sheinfeld, Dan Stein and Russell Velázques, with Siegler and Grossfeld doing the theme.
The first 20 episodes of season one aired on FOX until April 28, 2007. The remaining 6 episodes aired in the weeks leading up to the debut of the second season in November, complete with a new intro. However, after three episodes the new ones stopped airing in the United States. By this time, the relationship between 4Kids and FOX was dissolving due to 4Kids’ failure to pay the network for the air time and the network’s inability to guarantee that affiliates would even carry the block. Ultimately, FOX would abandon Saturday morning programming altogether. In the meantime, the series continued to air on YTV. 4Kids brought the show back onto their CW4Kids programming block on The CW in September of 2008, but took it off again after 6 episodes; leaving 16 episodes unaired in the United States. Viva Piñata finished out its run on YTV in May of 2009, and continued airing reruns through June of 2011. Across both seasons, Viva Piñata aired in over 107 different countries and was translated in 27 languages.
Microsoft commissioned a video game based on the show, making use of its characters—Hudson, Paulie, Fergy, Franklin and their female counterparts that appeared in various episodes—and voices. However, as Rare was working on Trouble in Paradise (whose plot was influenced by the show, although not as directly as this game), Microsoft outsourced its production to Australian Krome Studios. Unlike the other Viva Piñata games, Party Animals was comprised of minigames in what is known as a party game, a genre popularized by the Mario Party series. It was framed like a game show where contestants competed against each other with colorful commentary provided by announcers, followed by a racing game and random challenge games. The winner was determined by which character ended up with the most Candiosity. Although Microsoft expressed the utmost confidence in Krome to help keep the franchise—and the 360—successful, the end result was a game that was poorly received. Many criticized the fact it leaned towards a much younger audience, and that the minigames felt far too similar to each other. Rare would go on to make only one more Viva Piñata game in 2008: Pocket Paradise for the Nintendo DS. While maintaining the original gameplay mechanics. Pocket Paradise would make use of the cartoon’s characters and clips both within the game and for its marketing.
The segments “Chewnicorn in the Garden” and “Horstachio of a Different Color” were released for free download on the Xbox Live Marketplace as a kind of preview before the show’s debut. The latter was also later included on a bonus disc included with the Special Edition of the game. In 2009, Shout! Factory released the first 10 episodes across two DVD collections: The Piñatas Must be Crazy and Other Stories and Lights, Camera, Action! Imavision Canada would release three volumes in Canada containing 4 episodes each. In the United Kingdom, Walt Disney Pictures released 15 episodes across 3 DVDs: Hudson’s Better Half, Invasion of the Boogie Snatchers!, and A Match Made in Court! On the UK releases, segments were mixed up and not paired with their originally aired partners. In Australia and New Zealand, Magna Pacific and Warner Bros. released 12 different episodes across 3 collections.
“Cocoadile Tears / Candiosity” (8/26/06) – Tina and Teddington need Cocadile tears to improve their garden. / Fergy tries to decrease his Candiosity so he won’t have to go to the party.
“A Terrible Tribute / Pester the Piñata” (11/17/07) – Hudson is placed on a show where he meets Piantas from his past. / Professor Pester gets amnesia and believes he’s a Piñata.