To clarify; this is not a review. It is a warning. Yes, Plants Vs Zombies is worth your money. No, it’s not worth the death of your social and gaming lives. It’s the kind of risk/reward that has you thinking whether installing it is really that much of a good idea. What’s the worst that could happen? As bottles of Indian alcohol say, ‘Loss of Friends, Family and Life may result.’ So, you really have to ask yourself; How much do you really want to stop the zombie apocalypse with naught but a shrubbery of badass plants with hilarious backstories? I’m really not all that good at this warning malarkey, am I?
It’s hard to say a bad word about it. It’s more addictive than Peggle, and for the weeks after you buy it, you’ll do little else than partake in aggressive botany and culling of the undead. Plants Vs Zombies is easily one of the most accessible games I’ve ever played, and at the same time it possesses a depth that’s enough to keep even the most ardent RTS fan coming back, days after they’ve all but finished everything it has to offer, just to water some plants, or, y’know, kill some more zombies. How you spend your free time says a lot about you.
When it boils down to it I’ve spent at least 40 hours doing what my whole family sniggers at my grandfather for doing with his spare time. Growing vegetables shouldn’t be entertaining, and it definitely shouldn’t be satisfying to place a nut on the ground knowing that now at least your sunflowers are safe, all the while worrying if your mushrooms are going to be able to deal with the ladders in time. It’s tempting to call Plants Vs Zombies a perversion of tower defense games, but really, it belongs to no genre I can think of. Defense is the main aspect, but instead of defending a road or base, you’re defending grass. And, sometimes, a pool.
The humour definitely adds a good deal to endearing the game to you. Plants like Wall-nuts, Peashooters and Cabbage-pults all illicit a chuckle, and playing off the stupidity of zombies in creating ever more ridiculous enemies never really gets old. Really, though, the variety of ways to defend the lawn is what will prove to be the final time sink. The main adventure is excellently paced, starting you off with the bare essentials, and awarding you one new plant each level, until you’ve got such a selection the choice isn’t how to survive but how to dispose of the zombies. Similarly, the zombies themselves diversify, with bungee zombies, dolphin zombies, screen-door zombies and old man zombies all throwing a spanner in the works. By the time you get to the roof, each level is a challenge to adapt to the different tactics that you never feel like you’re being given a free ride, while at the same time never becoming so difficult you feel cheated. For the completists among you, the game issues you with a silver trophy when you complete the main adventure, slyly informing you that to get gold, you need to get a trophy in all of the other game modes. Simple, you think. Then you have a look at just how much extra content lies beyond the main story.
You unlock three distinct modes; Puzzle, Mini-game and Survival. The latter is obvious, and allows you to live out all of those fantasies that you had during the main campaign of just continuing to elaborate your defenses until nothing could get past. It’s the perfect antidote to the feeling you get in the adventure mode that you’re always on the back foot, unable to get a proper grip on things. Here you can create a solid foundation, and then with each level increasing in difficulty you get to swap out plants for more powerful versions, and defend against the more complicated of zombies. You don’t ever feel as though it’s easy, but it’s certainly a different style of play to the adventure mode, no matter how similar it looks.
Puzzle and Mini-games, on the other hand, provide a far more unique set of diversions. The Mini-games are a collection of novelties like wall-nut bowling, a bejewled clone that becomes even more addictive than the original due to the fact you’re still defending the lawn from zombies, adding a layer of strategy on maneuvering your plants around trying to find matches, and Zombotany, where the zombies have their heads replaced with plants, and can shoot back, proving visually funny and fiendishly difficult, encouraging an entirely new kind of playstyle. Puzzle is a little more simple, providing the brilliantly named I, Zombie, where you control the zombies and try to get into the house, and Vasebreaker, which is similar to Minefield, if the mines were replaced with zombies. The fact is, these are just a few highlights; the game itself contains so many ingenious variations that you’re bound to find something that you find brilliant, even if you don’t much like the main game.
There is also the Zen Garden, which provides an alternate source of income that has nothing to do with the zombies at all. It’s a moment of calm amid the many attacks, and mainly involves watering plants, playing them music and feeding them fertilizer. The level of compulsion that is present even here is almost sickening, with the insistent drop of water hanging over the icon in the main menu enough to drag you away from the main game to tend to the plants.
Then there’s the almanac, something that is almost entirely unnecessary, and completely hilarious. It contains descriptions of each zombie type, and every flower. All of them are enough to make you laugh, while at the same time creating small back stories behind everything in the game. Superfluous and brilliant, it’s perhaps the best demonstration of the game’s charm. It’s a game about using plants to defeat a zombie apocalypse; if it didn’t embrace the funny then what would be the point?
Popcap are famous for ruling the casual market, and for creating some of the most addictive games available. Plants Vs Zombies doesn’t feel like a casual game, but it’s accessible enough that anyone can play, and enjoy, it. It has enough depth to keep even the most hardcore gamer happy, while at the same time never being too overwhelming. Some of the mini-games lean towards the difficult side of things, but there’s more than enough content to charge triple what it costs and still feel like you got a good deal. Problem is, it’s the largest time-sink I’ve come across, and unless you’ve got the willpower to ignore it, or the gaps in your timetable to accommodate it, this game is going to be a pretty large inconvenience.
And, as an aside, here’s the wonderful song that they made for the game: