As the incredibly addictive theme song for Plants Vs Zombies goes, “There’s a zombie on your lawn…” but in fact that’s not very accurate. Not because it’s slightly alarmist, but because there’s zombies on your lawn. Lots of them. And the only thing that stands between them and your crunchy brain candy, is the lush green turf leading up to your door.
PopCap’s Plants Vs Zombies, already uber-successful on a number of platforms, takes the Tower Defence genre and turns it into lawn defence. You’ll need to use a myriad of different plant types to halt the progress of the undead in their relentless advances to try and crack open your head and feast on the sweet goo inside. The basic unit at your disposal consists of the sunflower which, despite lacking attack powers, is indispensable in generating sunlight which can then be collected and used to buy more elaborate units.
If there’s one thing Plants Vs Zombies (PvZ) teaches the player very quickly, it’s the importance of utilising the limited space on their lawn to maximum effect. Players will need the right amount of sunflowers to harvest sunshine and keep their resources topped up, while at the same time allowing enough space for placing down defences which pack a bit more of a punch. This is because the zombies themselves come in various shapes and sizes, from the bog standard shuffler, through to those armed with screen doors to deflect bullets, road cones or buckets on their heads to protect their delicate craniums, and all manner of `specialists` like pole vaulters who can pounce over blockades.
It’s here that the different types of plants come into play and the selection becomes more expansive as the player progresses. With over 40 different types it would take ages to list them and their different abilities, but suffice to say the player will need to bear the properties of each in mind when starting a level. That’s because as soon as the first set of levels ends, the player’s selection of plants is limited to several active slots at the top of the screen. Thankfully before a round starts you get a peak over the shrubbery to see what zombies are trying to make their way onto your property, but misjudge your selection wrong at the start and things will become very difficult, very quickly. Thankfully the in-game Almanac lists each discovered zombie type and their vulnerabilities, since trial and error of discovering which plant to use could have been extremely frustrating.
In the later levels the gameplay becomes extremely frantic as the player tries to repel the oncoming hoards, scoop up extra sunlight, and collect money to buy power-ups and extra plant slots. The game also likes to mix things up by throwing in night time levels (where sunlight is scarce), different lawn layouts and little mini games such as bowling and whack-a-zombie. These go some way to breaking up the standard tower defence, but it’s testament to PvZ’s robust gameplay that it doesn’t get old any time soon. It’s easy to sit down with the intention to only play for a short while, but find that a few hours of zombie mulching have passed.
It’s almost taken from granted with a PopCap game now, but Plants Vs Zombies does an excellent job in the presentation stakes, both bright and colourful, with lots of little neat touches to the sound work. It’s hard not to be enamoured with the endlessly smiling faces of the sunflowers, or the moan of the zombies as they shuffle through the hedge, calling out for brains and shedding their limbs when taking damage. There’s even the mirthsome (yet incoherent) babbling of CrazyDave, the player’s neighbour who pops up from time to time to offer advice or sell them goodies from the back of his car.
PopCap have also done a very good job of converting the game to the controller, something those who’ve played the iPhone / iPad versions may have been doubtful of. Also mindful of the fact that PvZ has been around for some time on other formats, this release tries to offer something different by adding multiplayer.
A mixture of co-op modes and versus, multiplayer offer extra longevity to the title for those who are playing the game for the first time, but it’s extremely disappointing that this is another title that suffers from being offline multiplayer only (something of a damaging trend of late). Given the bang-up job that PopCap did with taking Peggle online, it’s disappointing that the same effort hasn’t been applied here.
The question lingers as to whether the extra content here will be enough to entice those who might have already played the game to death to part with more money, or whether it even justifies the rather hefty price tag for this release (currently 1200 Points / $14.99) when compared to its price on other platforms. That answer will undoubtedly vary quite a bit on individual preference.
Regardless of any misgivings, they don’t manage to detract from the fact that, at its core, Plants Vs Zombies is still a remarkably entertaining and solid Tower Defence title which packs bags of charm and is extremely fun to play. Those who’ve already had their fill by now will probably find little to justify another purchase, however anyone who’s been daft enough not to discover the title to date, will undoubtedly enjoy another addictive PopCap title.