I’ve been endlessly excited for Plants Vs. Zombies since Shaun posted a link to the music video PopCap released as a part of its marketing campaign. Now that I have it in my hands, I love it more than I could have imagined. In fact this review is a few days late because I just couldn’t put the game down.
When I lost my laptop for a few more because my family couldn’t put it down, the review was further delayed. (Then, when the rest of the gang started playing the game, productivity in the office seemed to come to a standstill – Ed.).
I’ve been following and playing PopCap games for a long time now, and am a sucker for puzzle games. The company consistently produces puzzle titles with solid gameplay and copious amounts of fun, and Plants Vs. Zombies is no exception
With Plants Vs. Zombies, the title succinctly describes what is going on in the game. The player use plants on his/her lawn to defend the home against the zombie invasion. Players choose the best plants to use at various stages to keep the hordes of zombies at bay. I’m really stripping the game down to its core elements and, although it may seem simplistic, the freedom this allows the player is near endless. You can purposely challenge yourself with the choices you make for each level. For instance, you can see how well you do if you limit yourself to weaker plants, and this adds another layer of depth (especially for people who spend a lot of time with the game).
Plants Vs. Zombies, like all puzzle games, is banking on its replay value. The plot itself is not very long, but the play time is filled in with a slew of fun mini-games and survival challenges to keep players glued to their computers. Plants Vs. Zombies encourages the player to use and to build on the problem solving skills they’ve developed to complete the various survival modes and the eventual sub-story that occurs upon multiple play-throughs.
I really couldn’t put Plants Vs. Zombies down, and even when I didn’t have time to play through much of the game I felt compelled to check in on my garden and water my plants before turning off my laptop. What sets Plants Vs. Zombies apart from other PopCap games, however, is that it feels like a complete package. It’s a thoroughly fleshed-out game complete with a main story line, fun mini-games, a Zen garden where players can grow their own plants, some more mini-games, a survival mode, and even more mini-games.
Don’t take my exaggeration of the extras as my not enjoying them; I’m just making it clear there is a lot with this title to keep players both interested and busy. I find myself comparing Plants Vs. Zombies with Peggle DS (a recent port of Peggle which was previously only available online at PopCap’s site). With Peggle DS, I found that I wasn’t getting anything more other than having the online game on a portable device. I feel that with Plants Vs. Zombies, I have a complete game in front of me that was meant for a console and not for casual play like so many browser- and Internet-based titles.
Despite the plethora of bells and whistles in the game, it was its cultural references that really won my heart over. I was fighting the zombies in a graveyard at night, and as a huge wave of zombies approached, which zombie should appear? None other than zombie Michael Jackson, that’s who. He promptly performed a crotch grab, and this summoned four more zombies up from the ground. They then performed the Thriller dance! I haven’t laughed so hard at a random Michael Jackson appearance in a game since I danced off against Space Michael in Space Channel 5. (On that note, I find the fact that I can cite two games that have included a Michael Jackson cameo equally hilarious.)
The mini-games also have some pretty clever titles referencing and paying homage to games, music, and movies. Some of my favourites include: “All Your Brainz R Belong to Us,” “Dead Zeppelin,” and “Big Trouble Little Zombie.” There’s also a jack-in-the-box zombie wearing a white studded suit akin to something you would see on an Elvis Presley impersonator.
Plants Vs. Zombies has a very subtle learning curve that works into the game seamlessly, with new gameplay mechanics introduced at a comfortable pace. I didn’t once hit the point where a certain wave of zombies knocked me on my ass, and this was a refreshing thing to encounter in a game. Still, it’s not a total cakewalk and there’s plenty of challenge to be had. But thanks to the game’s pacing, the challenge never segued into frustration and always remained fun.
No discussion of Plants Vs. Zombies would be complete without mentioning Crazy Dave, the teacher and shop manager in the game. He goes through the game wearing a cooking pot on his head. Why? Duh, because he’s CRAZY, and this is his excuse for his erratic behaviour. The coins collected from killing zombies can be cashed in at Dave’s shop for defense add-ons as well as items for the Zen garden. The strangest thing with Dave is his resemblance to a Davey Crocket figure. His pot is turned to the side, making the handle look like the tail of a raccoon skin hat. I chuckled to myself as this was yet another moment in the game that played on cultural references.
The game’s graphics are simple, clean, and very colourful. The character design of the zombies is obviously quite different from those in Resident Evil titles. In fact, the zombies here have such personality that they border on cute. Some examples include the football player zombie, the man who was turned into a zombie with his pants down while reading a newspaper (I think we can all read into where he was when he was turned into a zombie), and my favourite: the zombie who wears a road cone on his head.
The clean graphics, coupled with great gameplay, makes for a very accessible title. Plants Vs. Zombies is and incredibly addicting game, and above all else, is a really fun experience. If you’ve been looking for a new puzzle game that offers a fun challenge similar to Defend Your Castle, then Plants Vs. Zombies is right for you. On that note I think my plants need water, and maybe some fertilizer, so I should go check on them.