There’s no denying the affable charm and colour that irradiates from each of Popcap‘s lovingly created, casual experiences that can delight even the most veteran of gamers. The bizarre yet profound characters from any of Popcap’s previous titles, from Feeding Frenzy to the insanely popular Peggle and Peggle Nights, a knowing contributor to their popularity and entertainment value. Plants vs. Zombies is no different, with the developer’s ability to create memorable and cutesy 2D sprites of yes, plants and zombies, lending it an attraction and agreeableness before the tower-defence like action can be up-rooted.
If you’ve not played Plants vs. Zombies before (and neither had I until this XBLA incarnation came around!) then you’re truly missing out. Simple and easy to understand, Plants vs. Zombies progressively deepens in complexity and trickiness the more time is spent in the ‘Adventure’ mode of 5 levels, each with ten stages, culminating in a fantastic boss battle.
Previously available for PC, MAC, and touch platforms; the iPhone and iPad, you’d be forgiven if you’d have thought a slap-dash attempt at porting the game over to XBLA would have been the selected option. However, Popcap are owed a huge debt in giving Xbox 360 owners a more than comprehensive improvement upon aforementioned versions of the game, boasting more game modes to the already expansive set, up-scaling the visuals to delightful HD splendour, and including all-new mini-games.
Playing as a slant on traditional tower-defence strategy games of old, Plants vs. Zombies – for any of you who’ve yet to play it – requires the player to put a stop to the hordes of undead that stagger intermittently from the right of the screen towards the house on the left. Where the grid of green grass is forever your friend, your role is to plant erm, plants, in order to mute the monotonous drawls of “brrraaaiinnns”. Collecting sun – PvZ’s currency, whether through daylight or seeded Sunflowers – will allow you to purchase additional types of plants to use against the oncoming attacks, where anything from single ‘Peashooters’ to the splash-damage ‘Potato Mine’ and the defensive ‘Wall-Nut’ will come in handy. In fact, this is where I can mention the first hugely positive aspect that arises from playing Plants vs. Zombies for the first time. So well handled is the progressive ladder that Popcap only introduce each new type of plant (selected, if you wish, before each new stage) when other’s have been mastered. Nothing ever feels overwhelming or insurmountable, and it’s where the game really shines, allowing anyone who comes into the game with an open mind to remain enticed before the game’s challenge steps up in the later levels.
And although I’d liked to have seen the game step up in challenge stakes (my ‘brainz’ were only eaten around three times), the number of different stages that the game conjures up is sure to keep game play feeling fresh and exciting, despite its simplicity. Because even though the plain of 5 or 6 rows of garden rarely alter, the progression from lawn garden towards a night-time garden, garden with a pool, and more, each offers a subtle alteration that will hinder anyone who is set into their ways and means that the game moves away from what many other tower defence games suffer with, repetition in tactical play. The darkness that overlays the night grid, for example, adds gravestones onto random squares, meaning plants can not be planted on them and as such, limiting the amount of attack/defence available to the player. The roof-top level also requires quick-thinking if you’re to overcome the gradual steepness of the roof, meaning you’ll probably have to employ rounds of Melon-Pult’s if the harder level is to be completed. How you approach different zombies is also of importance. Hilarious in their own right, the vast array of zombies on offer (beautifully realised 2D sprites) each have differing properties that will need to be handled, on occasion, in different fashions. Where most can be, ahem, stemmed by simple projectile-throwing plants, some require more forward thinking strategies (the Balloon Zombie needs to be blown away or balloon, popped, for instance, or planting garlic to divert zombies from a row). You’ll need to carefully flit between resolute time management, plant selection, resource gathering and keeping an eye on oncoming zombies if you’re to survive. Shopping for upgraded plants or additional slots for plant selection from Crazy Dave’s shop (again invoking that humour present in a number of Popcap’s previous games) is also a big aspect of PvZ, where collected coins can be spent.
The 1,200 MS points threshold has always been a contentious issue for many gamers, although the sheer value that you’re likely to receive from Plants vs. Zombies makes it a must-buy. The fact that the wealth of other modes have been carefully considered and shown as much love and attention as the substantial offering of the Adventure mode is unlikely to persuade you otherwise. The mini-games are sure to drain hours of play while the local two-player; co-op (either helping in Adventure or on set levels) and versus (one player takes the role of zombies, the other, plants) are sure to delight as much as any game on Xbox Live. One of the best downloadable offerings on the service yet. Well done Popcap.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 9/10
Platform: Xbox 360 (Windows, OS X, iOS) Release Date: 08/09/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Plants vs. Zombies for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.