Plants Vs Zombies (PC) Review

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Plants vs. Zombies Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: PopCap Games

Platforms: Xbox 360, PC and Mac
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 1.2 GHz Processor, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 8, internet connection, Windows 2000 or more recent operating system

PopCap is well known for cute, almost kitschy, games that seem casual on the exterior but offer the play that serious gamers enjoy. Best known for Bejeweled and Peggle, they have entered into the castle defense subgenre of games with Plants Vs Zombies (PvZ). Taking things literally, your home really is your castle, and the invaders are zombies. You fend them off with your garden. Sound a little surreal? It is, but in true PopCap fashion, it has that drug-like ability to steal your time in big chunks before you even realize it's 3am. With a humorous slant and a goofy personality, PopCap has fashioned another thoroughbred for its stable.

Kevin Rice

The New Gateway

The main portion of the game (Adventure Mode) starts off pretty easily, essentially introducing you to the basic mechanics of the game and your botanic arsenal. The zombies that are going to attack are shown on the right side of the screen, then it scrolls back left and the timer starts.

Nearly everything you can plant costs a certain amount of sunlight, which drops randomly from the top of the screen during the day. At night, you have to generate your own using, (you guessed it...) sunflowers. (You can and should use sunflowers during the day as well.) Nearly all of your seeds from The Doom and Gloom Seed Company have little puns for names. Can you guess what the peashooter does? How about the cherry bomb? Some are a bit of a stretch – the melon-pult catapult, for example – but understand that even though you're saving your home from a zombie attack, it's all very cute and sparkly in the way that PopCap seems to understand best. Depending on the level, you'll get roughly 20 to 40 seconds to start setting things up, and then the zombies start their slow shamble toward your brains.

Ready, Set, Plant!

Eventually, 25 different zombies (26 if you count the final boss zombie) will slowly make their way from right to left, and your arsenal of plants will do their best to make sure they don't enter your house. Some specialized zombies have armor like street cones, metal pails, football outfits, and eventually vehicles like bobsleds. Of course, with each new zombie comes a plant that can defend against it, if used correctly. For example, a zombie that floats over your defenses with a balloon tied around his waist is foiled by the one plant that can pop balloons (the cactus, of course). Those with metal protection can be disarmed by a mushroom that grows magnets. Really. The jalapeno will take out an entire row of enemies (the game is played on a 6x9 or so grid). In other words, it's all about how you set up your defenses to handle the situation.

Should things go completely wrong – your garden has more zombie footprints than it can handle – each row has a lawnmower (or a roof cleaner on later levels) that is sort of a smart bomb for that row. Additionally, you'll eventually earn an almanac that contains all of your plants as well as all the zombies you've encountered. Not only are some of the descriptions quite funny, the zombie section has descriptors for each entry's strengths and weaknesses. You'll also earn access to a shop, where you can purchase extra goodies to aid in your defenses. The shop also contains items specific to other game modes that have no use in Adventure Mode, but more on that later.

So will your brain get eaten? Many reviews and a few people I've talked to have wildly different opinions on PvZ's difficulty. Some really struggled through the last handful of the game's 50 Adventure Mode levels, while others found the whole thing to be modestly challenging at best. I happen to fall into the latter category. Without giving away my strategy, I used approximately the same strategy on nearly every level, reusing nearly the same 12-15 plants over and over again. The game will eventually provide you with 40 plants (with eight enhancements that can be purchased from the shop), and although you can only use a set amount, a certain combination will work 99% of the time. I should also mention that the main game is slightly different on the second time through since you start off with your full arsenal. It's slightly more difficult in that it forces you to use certain plants sometimes, but it's still quite beatable with the same basic combinations.

Has the threat ended?

After beating the game (and being treated to a full screen version of the video linked earlier), you'll have finally unlocked all that PvZ has to offer. I should mention that it's an annoyance to have to fully unlock the game by completely beating the game's main mode. I understand why it's done – the game expects you to know what each plant and zombie already does, and it doesn't really tell you what to do at all. Survival Mode is obvious. It's wave after wave of zombies for as long as you can go.

In Puzzle Mode, there are eighteen different puzzles, at least on the surface. What you really get is two puzzles with nine variations on each. One of them involves breaking jars that will either contain a zombie or a plant, and you have to deal with each situation as it arises. The other, which is more interesting, has you playing the role of the zombies trying to eat five brains per level. The Mini-Game Mode is far more entertaining and, in my opinion, more challenging than the core game. Some mini-games are based off of PopCap's other franchises like Bejeweled and Insaniquarium, while others are based on Portal or completely (at least mostly) original. Some of the mini-games are designed for those that found the Adventure Mode on the easy side, so if you did find Adventure Mode rough, be warned.

Finally, there's a Zen Mode that is outright strange. Essentially, you grow plants that you can eventually sell. While this mode is fairly straightforward (feed your plants, water your plants, play music for your plants, and so on), it's also pretty boring. For a price, you can grow a wisdom tree, and if you care for it correctly for long enough, it will start "shedding" hints and tips, as well as an Easter egg or two that will aesthetically change the main game.

The Aftertaste

PvZ sets out to make castle defense games more accessible and, on that front, it's wildly successful. The quirky sound effects, animations, and music all make this an attractive package to anyone but the most jaded gamer. Despite my few grievances arising from the need to unlock certain modes, there's enough here to satisfy fans of this style of game as well as attract potential new fans. The end of the game certainly hints at a sequel or perhaps some new levels (like PopCap did with Peggle Nights), and that would be a welcome addition. Even if that teaser ending never pays off, the game offers many hours of play, replayability and is well worth the price of entry.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 19, 2009 11:44 PM.

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