Review: Plants vs. Zombies (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on August 20, 2009

Plants vs. Zombies
Developer: Pop Cap Games
Publisher: Pop Cap Games
Genre: Puzzle/Strategy
Release Date: 05/05/2009

A few weeks ago I noticed my roommate playing Plants vs. Zombies, and with only a limited knowledge of what it was, I stopped to watch it in action. It was amusing to watch and I got quite a few laughs from it, but it didn’t look like something I would necessarily want to play so soon after Desktop Tower Defense sucked up more than its fair share of my time not that long ago.

Still, something ate at the back of mind, so I caved and put the game on my computer.

Several hours later, I was still playing it.

So then I came to realize that we didn’t have a review up for it on the site. That surprised me a bit. I made it my mission to see everything the game had to offer and to write something up for it when I had the chance.

Now let me tell you why this is one of the best games of year.

Game Modes:

In case you didn’t know, Plants vs. Zombies takes place at your house. A legion of undead has shown up with intent to eat your brain. Your only weapon is a lawn full of deadly plants willing to fight and die for you. You’ve got an ally in Crazy Dave, a man with a pot on his head and a trunk full of goodies to sell. The zombies are going to come from all angles, so you’ve got to be prepared to fight them at any time, anywhere. Its a fun little concept that should amuse just about anyone.

If there’s anything Pop Cap is good at, it’s going all out with a concept. There are so many ways to play Plants vs. Zombies that you start to wonder what DIDN’T make the cut.

You start out with Adventure. Adventure will take you through fifty levels, ten of each different scenario. You have day time, nighttime, pool, fog, and rooftop. Each scenario features a host of new plant types and zombies that you’ll have to deal with in order to survive. The strategies that worked in the day won’t work as well as night, and the mushrooms you can use at night can’t be used in the day. Things can’t be planted in the water without a lily pad, you need special plants to see through the fog, and there isn’t any soil on the rooftops so you need to put pots down first. Playing through Adventure will slowly but surely unlock all of the game’s features. You’ll get new plants, open up the shop, and unlock mini games and puzzles to solve.

In the shop, you can do more than just buy the obligatory upgrades. Here you increase the amount of plants you carry into battle at once, buy entirely new plants that are far stronger but far more expensive to use, and even buy plants and equipment to use in your Zen garden.

The mini games section is chock full of twenty unique games that each offer their own twist on the game’s format. For instance, one mini game has you literally playing Bejeweled with your plants while zombies come in from the right and try to destroy you. Another features zombies that have been given the powers of some of your plants. When they start firing back, it can get pretty hectic. You can unlock these as you play them, and while a few aren’t great, there are some seriously awesome ones. Walnut bowling is all kinds of fun.

There’s also Puzzle Mode. Here you have two different scenarios. The first has you smashing vases to reveal what’s inside. It can be a zombie or a plant, and you’ll need to place your plants in order to survive the unpredictable onslaught of zombies. The second puzzle has you controlling the zombies for once. You’ll need to place them strategically to destroy a pre-made lawn defense. Each of these puzzles has ten different variations and a final level which has you playing a gauntlet of challenges until you finally lose.

Speaking of which, you also have Survival Mode. This puts you in ten different levels where the idea is to build a lawn defense that has to last not one level, but a set number of flags with an increasing toughness and number of zombies. Just like in Adventure, you have day, night, pool, fog, and rooftop zones. However, there is both a normal and hard version of each. You also have endless survival, which is the ultimate challenge in the game. Trying to last through a hundred waves of zombies will test your abilities better than anything else.

If all that weren’t enough, the game also has a Zen garden for you to play around with. While playing the various modes, you’ll earn plants that can be placed in the garden. You’ll need to water them, feed them, spray them with bug repellent, and even play them some music to keep them happy. Your reward for this will be plenty of cash to use in the shop. If you want, you can leave this running in the background while you do something else on your computer and earn a bunch of cash that way. There’s even a tree that you can feed that will give you hints and cheats the more you feed him.

There is a ton of content and variety in this game. PopCap really went all out with this title, and it makes for one hell of a casual gaming experience.

Graphics:

Despite the potentially serious nature of a horde of undead zombies racing across your lawn to eat your brains, the game definitely takes a more light-hearted and fun approach to not only the gameplay experience, but the visuals as well.

The plants you use are full of life and personality. Many are given facial expressions, not to mention eyes and mouths. The colors used for daytime plants are all bright and colorful. The nighttime plants, in contrast, are darker, though still bright and colorful. Zombies are also just as full of personality, even if they are just a bunch of dead guys with the same face. The thing that gives them their personalities are their various attires and/or equipment. Your standard zombies wear a dull gray and brown suit, but later zombies come equipped with road cones as helmets, full football uniforms, a Zamboni, and one even comes in riding a dolphin! (I am NOT making this up!)

What this all amounts to is a seriously cool art style that conveys a light-hearted tone that can be appreciated by anyone. You won’t find any blood, gore, or drab colors in the game at all. Being that this is a casual game, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On the technical side of things, there isn’t all that much going on. The plants all have a standard animation loop they use. The zombies lumber forward at a slow pace. There are different animations for the different zombies, but these are simple 2D visuals. The rain effects look really nice though.

In some cases, I did notice a bit of slowdown when there was a lot going on on-screen at once. It took nearly a complete screen full of plants that shot multiple projectiles at once, but it did happen. This usually isn’t really a problem though.

As graphics go, the game features simple, yet gorgeous graphics that are just really nice to look at.

Sound:

I absolutely loved the music in this game.

The theme here is once again light-hearted, but there is also a high tempo to the music that won’t let you simply sit back and relax. There’s a lot of piano and bass being used, and it amounts to some really catchy background tracks. The music that plays at the menu, for instance, gets stuck in my head all of the time.

There is even a song with words in the game. Much like “Still Alive” from Portal, “Zombies On Your Lawn” by Laura Shigihara will stick with you long after you’ve finished the game. In fact, I was only able to wait a few minutes after hearing it for the first time before I had it on my MP3 player.

The sound effects in the game are simple, which if you haven’t guessed yet, is the theme the game has going for it. Each plant has its own sound for whatever attack or ability it uses. If you use something like freeze abilities, or the torch wood which lights peas on fire, you get satisfying sounds that correspond with either action. The sound of a zombie’s head being knocked off is not that much different from somebody popping gum. It’s nifty and will definitely make you smile the first time.

Beyond that, you’ve got a much of garbled nonsense for Crazy Dave’s voice, and the constant howls of “BRAINS!” from the zombies. There are a few different clips here, so you’re not always hearing the same voice.

The presentation of the game as a whole isn’t something that will blow you away, but it serves its job well and really fits the gameplay.

Gameplay

Plants vs. Zombies is very akin to a Tower Defense game. Baddies come in from one side of the level, and its your job to make sure they don’t get to the other side. Plants replace towers here, and instead of a wide open field, you’re given five or six lanes to defend. Zombies will not simply try to get past your defenses; in fact, they are so desperate to get to your brains that they will eat whatever plants are in their way.

One of the most important things in Plants vs. Zombies is resource management. Your resource, in this case, is sun. During daytime, you’ll get occasional sunlight from the sky, but most of it is generated using sunflowers. Using the sun you earn, you’ll need to create a lawn defense. Apart from a very small handful, most plants can only defend one lane. So, if you spend all of your resources defending one lane and ignore another, chances are your brains are going to be served on a platter.

The game does feature a fail-safe, however. At the end of each of your lanes is a lawnmower (or something comparable in levels where your lane isn’t on grass). When a zombie reaches it, the machine will cut down everything in the lane, killing the zombies and giving you a chance to build a better defense. You’ll also get bonus cash at the end of each level depending on how many of these you have left.

What really makes this game so much fun to play is the sheer variety of units, in terms of both plants and zombies. There are roughly fifty plant types available to combat roughly twenty zombie types. You start out with your basic pea shooters, which fire (you guessed it) peas at the zombies to kill them. You’ll quickly find other seed types that give you squashes, which are one use attackers that deal heavy damage; chompers, which can swallow zombies whole; walnuts, which serve as shields; and even corn that fires off both kernels and the occasional lob of butter, for example. Meanwhile, the zombies have plenty to throw at you as well. There are zombies that use road cones or metal buckets as armor, zombies with poles that can vault over your defenses, a dancing zombie dressed like Michael Jackson from Thriller who can summon a group of backup dancers to attack multiple rows at once, and of course the dreaded Gargantuar who can smash a plant in one hit. Each zombie requires strategy to defeat. If you don’t put something in that can pop balloons, balloon zombie might just float over your defenses. If you forget to put in magnet mushrooms, a miner zombie can dig his way to the back of your line and eat your defenses from the back! Thankfully, since there is such a large variety of plants and zombies, no two levels can be played quite the same way.

The depth of the game is further revealed when you start talking about day versus night. At night, you can use your mushrooms, which are cheaper and often have special abilities that give them advantages over certain types of zombies. The magnet shroom can attract zombie weapons and armor. The fume shroom can penetrate screen door shields, and the hypno shroom can turn zombies to fight for you! However, during the daytime these shrooms are sleeping. If you want to use them, you’ll have to use the coffee bean to wake them up. This costs additional sun, so you’ll have to judge whether or not you need them. Like night conditions, there are certain plants that can only be used in the water. The cattails can attack any row on the lawn, but can only be placed on a lillypad. On the rooftops, the roof is slanted, and your plants that attack in a straight line won’t be able to hit zombies that are at a distance. You’ll need special plants that can lob projectiles at an angle. You’ll also need to put in pots so you can even place a plant on the roof. During the fog sections, you can’t see a large portion of the field, but there are certain plants that can light it up or clear the fog. There are also effect-based plants like Garlic, which forces a zombie who takes a bite to get grossed out and move to an adjacent lane. I don’t have to tell you how this can be used for strategic play.

There are more and more examples of this kind of depth in the game. It would take pages and pages before I could could myself finished. All you need to know is that there is a ton of strategy and planning involved, yet it is accessible and fun.

As far as controls go, all you need is the mouse. You select a set number of plants at the beginning of each level, collect sun from the sky and sunflowers, and spend sun by clicking on seed packets at the top of the screen. You simply drag the plant where you want it to place it, and if you’ve placed something in the wrong spot or want to replace a plant, you can use a shovel to dig it up. This will destroy the plant though, so be warned.

I mentioned the twenty mini games that you can play earlier, so let’s discuss them a bit more now. Each one has their own rules, and a few, like walnut bowling and vase breaker, appear in the main game as short breather sections halfway in-between main sections. Also, the final level of each section changes it up a bit. Plants are given to you via conveyor belts at the top of the screen, and you need to drag them down to use them. This gives these sections a more action oriented feel, as you won’t need to worry about your sun or what plants to use. The game’s final boss is the best example of this change of pace.

All told, this is a fun, deep, and highly customizable game. As long as your strategy is sound, you can play however you want and have a blast.

Replayability:

So far this review has been pretty positive, and you might be wondering if PopCap has been slipping me some money under the table or something. Worry not, conspiracy theorists, this game does have a downside!

While its true the game has over fifty levels and about an additional fifty bonus games/levels to play around with, most of these are very short. In truth, you’re not likely to get more than ten hours out of the game at most before you’ve beaten everything. There aren’t any challenges to complete once you’re done, so the only thing you’ll have to come back for is for your own amusement. Considering this kind of reward system was so prevalent in games like Peggle, its disappointing Plants vs. Zombies doesn’t have it. If you stop getting a kick out of replaying what you’ve already beaten, then this game isn’t going to last all that long.

Still, if you get into the game even half as much as I do, you’ll be glad there is such a wide variety of things to do should you ever feel up to it. It’s the kind of game you play in short burst and occasionally come back to when you’re bored, though such sessions are probably not going to last you longer than an hour.

If you get into the Zen Garden, you can spend countless hours scouring the game for all of the different plant types and earning cash. This can be a bit of a grind, since earning plants is done pretty much at random. You’re more likely to get some plants during certain levels, but you’re never guaranteed one.

What this game really needed was a multiplayer function. There is already a mode that lets you control the zombies, so why not have one player build a lawn defense while another tries to take it down? It would have been awesome. Hopefully, the make a sequel and include such a feature.

It almost makes the game feel like a mini game collection or something. It’s the kind of game you bring out every once in while and fool around with, but don’t spend a lot of time playing. It won’t end up taking too much of your time overall, but it does offer enough to keep you coming back once in while.

Balance:

Another problem, albeit a relatively small one, is that the game is just too easy. Unless you have the strategic mind of those who would fight a land war in Russia during the winter, you’re going to be able to complete most levels and challenges on the first try. In fact, the only level I failed to beat my first time through, I failed because I underestimated the power of the Gargantuar.

When it comes to the balance between plants and zombies, the game has a great counter system in place. For every zombie you fight, you’ll have at least one plant that is extremely useful against him. The zombies, on the other hand, can and will defeat you if you don’t plan around them.

What really makes the whole thing so forgiving is the lawn mowers and their ilk. The take out an entire row, and in the rare cases that they are activated, it will usually be during the final wave of zombies. This meant that even though I was defenseless, there wasn’t anything left to worry about.

Casual games tend to live off of at least a decent challenge that engages the player to keep going. You won’t find that here. If the game wasn’t as much fun to play, this would really have dragged it down.

Originality:

This is probably the hardest part of the game to judge.

On one hand the game can easily be placed in the Tower Defense category because you’re building defenses to keep baddies away from a section of the playing field. On the other hand, you’re required to manage an economy while strategically planning how to defend each row from hordes of the undead. It definitely has more depth that your average Tower Defense game. Also, I’ve never seen a game go so all-out with this concept. The sheer number of plants, zombies, different strategies, and minigames make it a truly unique experience.

In the end, when compared to your average casual game, Plants vs. Zombies stands out a a clever and unique entry, even if it isn’t necessarily groundbreaking in any way.

Addictiveness:

This is a PopCap game.

It has been secretly programmed to hack your computer and release addicting agents through your DVD drive. Even the most hardened and cynical bastard won’t be able to stop playing this game unless someone points a gun to his head and demands that he do so. Even then, its a fifty-fifty chance that he’ll continue to play and get shot over it.

I had a a friend come over. He scoffed when he saw me playing, so I started him a file. Fifteen minutes later and he was practically throwing the mouse at me because he couldn’t stop playing. Another friend, who has been lost in the lands of WoW for nearly a full year at this point, stopped playing that to play through this one time. My brother only stopped playing Plants vs. Zombies because his wrist was acting up and causing him severe joint pain.

If you haven’t gotten the point yet, this game is ridiculously addictive. PopCap still has the magic touch.

Appeal Factor:

Of all of the people I just listed who got addicted to this game, not a single one of them has the same kinds of tastes in video games. The first friend only gets into FPS titles and racing games. The other friend is obviously an MMO enthusiast. My brother plays mostly sports games, and I tend to avoid casual games like the plague. However, each of us greatly enjoyed our time with Plants vs. Zombies.

Like any good casual game, it extends itself beyond the borders of what does and doesn’t appeal to a person. If you simply hear that it is a game about fighting zombies with plants, you might not be that interested. Once you’ve played for a few minutes, however, you’ll see it is nothing short of a match made in Heaven.

Thanks to the charm the game oozes out of every pore (which includes the art style, the music, the gameplay variety, etc), this is a game that pretty much everyone can have some fun with. Right now, you can grab it for only ten dollars off of Steam, and there isn’t a reason not to.

Miscellaneous:

What more is there to say? This game is so fun and addicting that the biggest complaint you can make against it is that there isn’t more! When that’s the worst part of a game, you know you’ve got something good.

This is one of my personal picks for Game of the Year so far, and I encourage everyone to spend the menial amount of cash and get this game. You won’t regret it.

The Scores:

Modes: Great
Graphics: Good
Audio: Very Good
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Decent
Originality: Enjoyable
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Very Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:

diehardjackPlants vs. Zombies is such a great game, the only reason it took me so long to write up a review for it is because I couldn’t stop playing it long enough! This is one of the most fun and addictive games I’ve ever played, and its placed at such a low price point that anyone with a computer should pick it up immediately. Any sequel that PopCap might decide to put out in the future will instantly become one of my most anticipated titles of the decade. Throw in some multiplayer and add some challenge to the proceedings, and this could easily be game of the year.



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Aaron Sirois

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  • http://wowgoldpig.com warcraft gold

    This game can easily be summed up in three words — fun, adorable, and addictive, like other Popcap games I’ve played such as Zuma and Bookworm Adventures. It reminds me of World of warcraft which I got addicted to. The graphics are cartoonish, yet detailed and you’ll have a good chuckle at some of the outlandish plants and zombies you’ll meet.

  • http://www.r4-ds.es r4 ds

    You have given nice reviews for Plants vs. Zombies. You have given perfect information for this. Thanks for sharing this lovely reviews.

  • Pingback: Diehard GameFAN | Review: The Culling of the Cows (PC)

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