With seriously habit-forming casual gaming hits like Peggle and Bejeweled already consuming far too much of our spare time in the office, at home, and on-the-go, PopCap Games is going for the jugular with its latest masterpiece. A strategy game about adorable flowers might only appeal to the faithful casual market PopCap dominates, but throwing in a horde of brain-eating zombies of all shapes and sizes is a surefire way to get gamers’ attention. Combining the two into a finely crafted and expansive offering that’s laden with quirky humor and a tremendous amount of play features seals the deal. Thought you were sick of tower defense games? Plants vs. Zombies will change your mind.
PopCap’s debut strategy defense game is a peculiar one indeed. Zombies are on the prowl in the neighborhood in search of your sweet, delicious brains. Instead of a quartet of gun-toting survivors, a photojournalist with a thing for shopping malls, or a swordfighting gal in a bikini, the true heroes of this undead apocalypse come out of a seed packet. This hearty assortment of flowers and other exotic plants vow to protect their master’s brains at all costs and hunker down to defend their stretch of the lawn from the shambling invaders. Luckily for your apparently enticing gray matter, this season’s annuals have good aim. Gardening is rarely an exciting endeavor, except when it’s done in a frantic attempt to save your hide.
In each round, groups of zombies will scale the picket fence border and meander menacingly towards your abode and the scrumptious brains awaiting them inside. Your lawn is conveniently mowed into a 5×9 square grid, where you can plant your defenses. Once they appear at the far end of the screen, zombies will advance in straight lines along various lanes of the grid, eating almost anything they come into contact with. They initially appear sporadically in staggered formations and patterns, though they’ll also regularly attack-en-masse. As a last line of defense, each lane is protected by a single lawnmower that will shoot across the screen if a zombie reaches it. If any undead ventures beyond that point and on into your house, the game ends. Holding off individual zombies and larger waves requires strategic management of the game’s main resource, sunshine, as well as thoughtful deployment of your many floral and veggie defenses.
Sewing new plants requires large stockpiles of sun. During the daytime, droplets of sunshine will appear at random and is collected with a quick click of the mouse. This precious resource can also be harvested from sunflowers you’ll plant amongst your floral barricade. With the sun power flowing, you’ll be able to roll out a huge range of offensive and defensive plants like pea shooters (some with freeze powers and multi-shot capabilities), produce launchers (melons, cabbage, and buttered corn), explosive peppers, giant potato barricades, nocturnal fungi, and more. There are 49 plants in all, and each has a wildly unique purpose and function. Only a handful of plants can be brought into battle in each round, so selecting which ones to use against the increasingly diverse zombie hordes is an important part of the strategy.
The ridiculous array of zombies you’ll face plays heavily into the game’s humorous nature and also keeps you on your toes. Early on, you’ll encounter zombies that wear buckets, cones, football gear, and even carry screen doors to make them tougher to dispatch. There are Michael Jackson zombies that prance around and summon backup dancers to attack, zamboni zombies that ice the way for the always-entertaining zombie bobsled team, pole-vaulting zombies, water-friendly ducky tube zombies, dolphin rider zombies, and more. New types of zombies are introduced at regular intervals and pose unforeseen threats to your defenses, requiring constantly changing tactics to successfully counter.
Loaded with an upbeat, colorful art style and ample audio silliness, Plants vs. Zombies is as fun to watch as it is to play – even while sticking to a family-friendly vibe. Though the flowers are quite cute and bubbly, the zombie animations are particularly entertaining. They drop body parts as they get damaged and react differently when they’re hit with special attacks. You’ll spend a lot of time in the same few locations, but other changes keep the levels varied.
In some levels, daytime turns to night, presenting new challenges for sunshine gathering and benefits from fungal plants to use. Mini-game levels also change up the rules slightly, closely resembling boss battles. And in some levels fog rolls in from time-to-time, obscuring half of the field. The battle will eventually move from the front lawn to the backyard (where you’ll have to face aquatic attacks on your pool) and up to the roof for the final stretch.
The main adventure mode’s 50 levels alone offer quite a few hours of play time, yet there’s far more to explore here once you wrap that up. PopCap was thorough in designing Plants vs. Zombies to be beefier than typical casual fare (appealing to all kinds of players) and their efforts really show. Beyond the main game, there are 20 fun mini-games to fiddle with, a robust puzzle mode featuring a slightly different play style that lets you be the zombies, a survival mode that lets you cumulatively add on to your defenses day after day against increasingly powerful zombie attacks, and even a Zen gardening mode where you nurture plants to gain money to spend on unlocking new goodies in the shop.
In its first few minutes, Plants vs. Zombies can be quite deceptive in appearance; it’s like stepping into a small puddle only to wind up falling in up to your neck – except instead of water, you’ll be soaking in awesomeness. You can easily sink many, many hours into it and still find more things to explore. The hilarious presentation, unusual subject matter, and super addictive defense gameplay are good reasons alone to give this game a try, but the bevy of content to explore, zombified adversaries to fight, and plants to collect will stamp out any doubts you might have had about whether participating in a war between zombies and flowers was a good idea.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Cute plants and silly zombies clash nicely in a colorful and kid-friendly animated manner. 4.3 Control
Simple clicking mechanics keep you busy. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great sound effects and zombie speak! 4.6 Play Value
Many play modes and lots of addictive fun. Go buy and download this game! 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.