“Seriously? Plants against zombies?” I thought upon first seeing a boxed copy of Plants vs. Zombies in a store a few months ago. I raised an eyebrow at the cartoony zombie on the cover and then dismissed it as another attempt to cash in on the current zombie craze.
Fast forward to San Japan 3, and among my fellow freakos I saw someone dressed up as the zombie from the box cover carrying around a flower in a pot. I thought to myself, “Okay, the game is apparently popular enough to cosplay,” but I was still uninterested.
Next thing I know, O.G. assigned me the Xbox Live Arcade version of Plants vs. Zombies to review, so I guess I couldn’t dismiss or ignore it any longer. Good thing, too, because I would have otherwise missed out on a fun game from the house that Bejeweled built: PopCap Games.
Like most of PopCap’s games, the concept is simple: defend your home from invading zombies. Also, like many of PopCap’s games, once you get into it you CANNOT STOP PLAYING. I started at about ten o’clock at night, blasted through the single-player campaign and ultimately fell into bed at four in the morning, a bleary-eyed, yawning, exhausted, very entertained heap of gamer.
Plants vs. Zombies is a “tower defense” game in which you use plants to defend your home on the left side of the screen. The invading zombies shuffle in from the right side of the screen and in typical zombie fashion, walk in a straight line across six rows. To keep the undead away from your tasty brains you must place plants in their path that either shoot projectiles at them or slow them down.
While on the surface, pitting plants against zombies doesn’t sound like a fair fight, there are wide variety of offensive and defensive plant types to use to keep your home and brains safe. Initially, the player starts out with basic units such as a “Peashooter” that shoots, well…peas and “Wall-Nuts” that zombies must eat through before they can continue. As you progress through Adventure Mode you will unlock additional plants to help you fend off the zombie horde.
While the game starts out assaulting you with basic garden-variety shambling undead, new zombies will show up as you continue through the campaign. Zombies wearing traffic cones and buckets on their heads require more shots to defeat, pole vaulting zombies leap over the first obstacle they encounter, and newspaper carrying zombies come at you faster after they lose their reading material. There are over twenty different zombie types to be encountered, and players will need to adjust their defensive strategy as new ones are introduced.
At the beginning of each level of Adventure Mode, the player is given a quick peek at the incoming zombie horde and then six plant types must be chosen to use in the level. Selecting the right plants becomes more and more critical as the game progresses, and once your pick your floral fighters the game begins.
Sunlight is the resource you use to place plants. Each plant requires the player to have a certain amount of sunlight before it can be placed. Sunlight falls down from the top of the screen as the game progresses and must be caught with the cursor. Sunflowers can also be planted that produce sunlight on their own. The player has to decide whether to plant lower-level attack plants quickly, or use defensive units, which cost less sunlight, to slow down the attack until enough sunlight can be saved up to drop more effective attack units. Plants also cannot be placed repeatedly; each one has a recharge time that must pass before it can be used again, with more powerful units having longer recharge times.
The player gets about a sixteen second head start before the zombies start groaning in. The controls are simple: you move a cursor with the d-pad or analog stick, use A to drop plants, and hold down B to remove them. Attack units fire by themselves and it is very satisfying to sit back and watch a well constructed defense blast away the undead. Some plants provide instant offensive firepower for those inevitable moments of horror when your defenses have been breached, and in the first set of levels, a row of lawnmowers serve as a last-ditch defense, clearing out an entire row of zombies should your efforts fail.
The occasional whack-a-zombie and zombie bowling levels keep the game from getting too repetitive. Nighttime, backyard and rooftop settings add their own twists to the gameplay. Occasionally, after warning you with a humorous note, the zombies will attempt an all-out attack. On those levels, you are given a constant stream of plants that can be immediately placed for a dose of faster-paced action.
Nearly everything in Plants vs.Zombies is done for laughs. The cute cartoony graphics, overly-pleasant background music, funny character descriptions and constant puns maintain the game’s lighthearted tone. A few levels in, you will be introduced to your neighbor Crazy Dave, who sells upgrades and extra plant types. Unlockable mini-games and puzzle levels provide ways to earn extra in-game cash and are fun little diversions. Some of them are zombie-flavored versions of other PopCap games, such as Bejeweled, Insaniquarium, and Heavy Weapon.
Plants vs. Zombies maintains the high production values associated with PopCap Games’ productions. The hand-drawn 2-D graphics look good and fun to look at. The music and sound effects fit the game well. In terms of difficulty, I would describe the game as being moderately challenging. I only lost twice during my initial run through the game’s campaign but did also have a few close calls. Co-op and versus modes provide some replay value.
My only major complaint about Plants vs. Zombies is that some of the in-game text can be hard to read. I play games on a 32-inch television, so if you have invested in a more sizable screen you may not have that issue. It isn’t a game-breaker but if you are one of those gamers who likes to read all of the in-game text you might need to sit just a little bit closer to your screen.
I enjoyed Plants vs. Zombies. It is a fun game with a silly sense of humor and well, ZOMBIES! Hardcore gamers might be put off by the short campaign and limited challenge, but for the rest of us, Plants vs. Zombies will provide lots of fun and laughs.