In what seems to be a quest to make me eat my words from my last review of PopCap Hits by including two titles I found odd to be omitted previously, PopCap have release PopCap Hits Volume 2, another collection of four addictive games from the kings of casual and puzzle addiction. Included in this collection are: Heavy Weapon, Feeding Frenzy 2, Zuma and Plants vs Zombies.
PopCap Hits Volume 2 provides a broader mixture of genres. Zuma sticks to the three-of-a-kind colour matching style which we’re all familiar with whilst Heavy Weapons is a side scrolling shooter, Feeding Frenzy is something else entirely and lastly Plants vs Zombies is a tower defence game. PopCap Hits Volume 2 then, technically provides better variety as a whole than the first collection although not necessarily better games individually.
Zuma‘s addictive colour matching forgives a lot of sins; including heavy repetition and a steep difficulty curve, but is ultimately old fashioned when compared to PopCap’s more recent releases. A spiral – or several – of different coloured balls hastily move from off screen towards ancient markings representing a mouth which opens gradually. You are tasked with hitting a certain score before the mouth fully opens and devours the balls. You fire coloured balls of your own at the spiral to destroy chains of three or more of the same colour – standard colour matching rules – taking advantage of multipliers for destroying larger than three chains and having destroyed sections causing the balls to fall into immediately destroyed chains. Zuma devours time just as readily as it devours the coloured balls but after a few levels the difficult pushes the challenge to an uncomfortable level, eliminating its casual flare.
Heavy Weapon harks back to side scrolling shooters from the early days of home computing, specifically the Commodore 64 era. You control a tank, forever moving from left to right, and must shoot down attacking aircraft of all shapes and sizes, as well as the odd ground vehicle, before facing a large boss at the end of each level. Each level you complete allows you to upgrade your tank with additional weapons to match a steady difficulty curve and newly introduced enemies. It does suffer from repetition though, the backgrounds change and new enemies fly in but the grind follows a predictable pattern of dodging and shooting. Power-ups dropped by friendly helicopters subtlety improve shields, speed and weapons, and enemies provide parts to a super beam weapon which is extremely satisfying to use however, so with the mission mode of structured progression and the survival mode for simple carnage, it’s a casual experience that provides just enough excitement and reward to please your destructive cravings.
Feeding Frenzy 2 initially seems identical to it predecessor. It’s still all about eating smaller fish so to you grow in size and climb the food chain, whilst also eating starfish and the like for boosts to your score. As with the first Feeding Frenzy you can play through a campaign taking control of different creatures, which also now includes bugs such as butterflies to control as well as jumping out of the water to eat said bugs, Ecco the Dolphin style. It’s strangely compelling to feast on what unsuspecting life you can find. It trades heavily on the PopCap charm that emanates from all the developers’ titles; the easy to play, hard to master mechanics and a level of simplicity that increases accessibility to almost anyone, but other than a selection of different fish, bugs and backgrounds, as well as a slight visual upgrade, Feeding Frenzy 2 doesn’t offer much more than the original.
Like Peggle was to PopCap Hits, Plants vs Zombies is to PopCap Hits Volume 2. It’s the headline act, an absolute classic that everyone should own.
Plants vs Zombies is tower defence with a twist. You have no winding path leading to the defensive units you’ve placed; instead you have an open lawn, lawn with a stream or even a roof, which the attackers stagger along in a straight line towards your house. The premise is another twist to the formula; your defensive units are a wide variety of plants. You have plants that fire projectiles, eat attackers, block attackers temporarily, explode on contact and more, and what are they fending off? Zombies!
It’s hugely imaginative and unique – almost forming a family friendly zombie game thanks to the cartoon style visuals and light hearted charm. The zombies are just a varied as the plants and come at you in different ways, for example bearing shields or performing a pole vault jump to clear your first plant. As such you’re constantly challenged to design your defences to counter the zombie threat by choosing which plants to bring into each round and where and when to place them. It’s also about managing your resources, sunlight, which acts as currency to purchase you plants. During day missions sunlight will fall as little suns to be collected and your sunflower units and mushrooms generate more. By night you’re dependent entirely on you plants to produce sunlight. The day and night missions therefore feel very different from each other, in fact from one mission to the other things can change quite dramatically thanks to such a vast variety of different plants, zombies and mini games – such as bowling rocks at zombies.
Plants v Zombies is teeming with content. The campaign is lengthy and includes the mini game interludes which you can also play separately. Then there’s the multiplayer options, coop and competitive. Coop has two players fend off the horde each with a different selection of plants and separate sunlight pools. It’s a matter of working together and sharing sunlight so to get the right plants out on the lawn. The competitive mode allows one player to play as the zombies with tomb stones providing your resources, and it plays out similarly to playing as the plants, except your units stumble forward once placed. It’s a great addition and massively addictive and satisfying, although that fact that it’s limited to local play is disappointing.
As a package, once again it includes a good selection of PopCap‘s hit downloadable titles. However, again the value of the package is dependent on what you already own, both in the terms of what’s included in this volume and what more recent PopCap titles you own that can overshadow the ones available here. Each title does boast the PopCap charm and addictive fun though and Plants vs Zombies is magnificent so it’s impossible not to recommend PopCap Hits Column 2.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 18/03/11
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Popcap Hits for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.