Plants vs. Zombies Review: Not Just Another Zombie Game
As of late, the “Tower Defense” genre has generally been tackled by independent developers exploiting flash games to their most addictive capacity, forcing players to defend a fixed, critical points on a map using other fixed defenses of varying degrees of effectiveness. Some games even let the player take a more direct role by activating one-use items to clear the area of attackers, or send their own army to battle their oncoming opponents. The original games which birthed this concept stem from the original cult following from Battle.net game “Starcraft,” and have become well known to hardcore and casual gamers alike with names like “Defend Your Castle” and “Desktop Tower Defense.” While they boil down to mindless fun, with a dash of strategy built in, the initial concept has not changed much; protect yourself by using all the means at your disposal and preserve enough resources to effectively advance through the game without being overrun by enemies. As the game progresses the player builds and upgrades until they can just sit back and watch the baddies drop like bad sitcoms until the level ends. Sure, the levels change and the towers and monsters become more interesting and powerful, but a solid player can clear any stage with enough understanding of the game’s rules and the basic layout. One thing is clear though; players that are new to the genre tend to keep back; the amount of enemies might be too overwhelming even with tutorials or help, due to the speed, strategy, and technique required. Fortunately, PopCap’s “Plants vs Zombies” is a pretty solid attempt to change the genre of defense games forever.
In the first vegetation vs. undead defense game you are tasked with defending your virtual house from being overrun by an ever-evolving zombie infestation. With five lawnmowers, a whole bunch of plant seeds, and a clearly-insane neighbor/mad botanist, you defend your home with vegetation. Now, I was already in love with the idea simply based on the game’s title, but what really pulls you in is the gameplay. The player has a beautiful lawn being ravaged by the undead hordes, equipped with all manners or “weapons” and “armor” like buckets, screen doors, and the occasional pop song. The player uses the forces of nature to combat the onslaught with seed-spitters, potato mines, and mushrooms which make the zombie high, confusing them into attacking other zombies… did I mention this game was completely insane? But it’s so inviting; after you complete a level, you’re treated to goodies like new seeds, unlocking mini-games and a shop which provides upgrades which lessen the chance of getting your brains eaten. Adventure Mode, provides an overwhelming sense of development and gratification with each level completed, and each reward achieved. Can’t beat that….Except when the rules of the game change. All of a sudden, the game ups its difficulty, and the your throwing giant bowling walnuts into the rotting corpses, and hoping for an assembly line to give you the right plant to protect the house as best as possible. “P vs Z” really goes out of its way to offer a wide variety of offensive attacks to prevent the undead from being triumphant.
The Mini-games do the same thing; from slot machines to zombies with plant heads, the games’ nonsensical nature provides excellent and innovative gameplay and even more replay value. Also unlockable are challenge levels, where the game becomes quite sadistic, placing restrictions on certain plants, forcing the player to only use a certain kind of plant, or to defeat the incoming hordes within amount of time. Finally, the Survival Mode is an endless killfest to see how long the player can possibly last with all they have available from the Adventure mode, and upgrades from Crazy Dave’s car. Your shop is eventually unlocked and you obtain a car key, which unlocks the trunk of a car owned by a neighbor who wears a sauce pot on his head. Now that’s something you won’t get out of your head for quite some time.
Outside of the gameplay, the charming atmosphere is what makes this game so appealing. Every level has you defending your house with its colorful yard, on a bright sunny day (or, in some cases, an enchanting night) with a relaxing swimming pool… surrounded by hordes of the walking dead. The music is much the same way; eerily soft and non-threatening when you’re being rushed, making it a surreal experience I doubt will be forgotten anytime soon. As the levels change from day to night, and eventually turn into the backyard, the graphics reflect the atmosphere, and emphasize calm seas and glinting starlight on the surface of the pool water, while the music gets more upbeat. While this isn’t the typical scenario I think of when preparing for combat against the undead, the music is quirky and interesting enough for me to go along with it.
“Plants vs. Zombies” deserves a heavy recommendation for newcomers and seasoned veterans alike, although it clearly plays up the humor to introduce the genre to new players. The game is enjoyable, different, and altogether a great experience. If you’re willing to throw down $20 and are up for something a little different, you won’t go wrong with this game. This mere existence of this game once again proves that PopCap are the kings of casual gaming, and they’ve created yet another title worth playing over again and over again.