Plants vs. Zombies

There is something about Popcap that seems to make most of the games they release golden; it’s a mix of excellent presentation, ease of play, mixing genres and some addictive je ne sais quoi. “Plants vs. Zombies” is the latest title released and seems to be making somewhat of a splash on-line. At its heart this game is a simplified Tower Defense game, in which the player plants a variety of flora to protect the player’s house from a hoard of invading zombies. As a true Tower Defense game it doesn’t satisfy though. Mostly zombies move in single file and offensive plants, too, are limited to a single row, though later upgrades to offer a wider area of attack. Even though it’s an incredibly fun game, it does have some issues which are worth investigating. What makes this particular Popcap game so fun despite some flaws, and what is it that elevates it above the increasing flood of independent releases today?

The main problem with the game is that the basic premise, the largest chunk of the game in the adventure mode, is very slow to start. With limited options and the previously mentioned single-file approach to offense and defense, you spent the first part of the game basically building the same elements in each row, which makes the game somewhat boring. And this is a shame, because once the game starts to build, exchanges day and night cycles, adds a pool, moves to the rooftop things get a lot more strategic. Even at this point there is a fair amount of row-based similarities in your tactics, but with a huge list of plants to choose from and only a limited number of seed slots to occupy during a wave your choices in “weapons” and the way you choose to play all become strategic elements in the game outside of the actual level.

What is most telling is that the selection of mini-games is actually more fun than the basic game. Whether it’s zombie bowling, a reversal of roles where you supply the zombies, a slot-machine based version of the game or one of the puzzle modes you’ll probably be spending a lot of time on these. This is not just because they’re good fun, but also because you’ll need a lot of money to buy upgrades with. And though this isn’t a problem per se, the way mini-games are locked is rather crippling. It takes a good length of time playing through the story mode before mini-games are unlocked as an option from the main menu, and even then you’re only given a few, with more unlocked as you finish the story mode.

For the independent developer, though, a lot can be learned from Popcap’s games. Their presentation is usually very high quality and Plants vs. Zombies is no exception, with cute plants, fun zombies and a healthy dose of humour thrown into the mix, especially in the way the zombies try to fool you with handwritten notes sometimes – check out the “help” section on the main menu for example. This title is slick! Some of you may have seen the “music video” on-line, which can also be seen during the end credit sequence, and you have to be a heartless bastard not to smile at its silly cuteness. Zombie Michael Jacksons too appear and do the Thriller dance moves. This game is overflowing with character!

Value for money too is something Popcap gets right again. The number of different mini-games, although all vaguely based on the central premise, is astounding and even harks back to some previous Popcap titles with a Bejeweled knock-off in there somewhere. It’s not just the sheer amount of imagination that surprises as the amount of fun all these mini-games offer. The tradition is that mini-games are annoying breaks from regular play with little compulsion to replay them at leisure, but not so in Plants vs. Zombies, where they are actually more fun than the core mode. Then there is a Zen Garden mode, where you look after pot plants for extra bonuses, as well as an almanac that lists all the seeds and zombies you’ve encountered with funny descriptions. Content-wise Plants vs. Zombies puts most other independent offerings to shame.

Though Plants vs. Zombies isn’t quite the must-have Peggle is, and it will disappoint tower defense fanatics, it is a great little title I can recommend to anyone, though know that it only really picks up after you’ve completed three quarters of the story mode orso. For independents it is a must-check-out for the level of polish and presentation few other developers seem to be able to match these days.

22 comments:

  1. FILBERT BENEDICTUS 11.3Friday, May 29, 2009

    I also think this game is the best game made by Popcap so far. And it has the 'addicting' feel which every Popcap game has. This game is somewhat very original and it is incredibly interesting and challenging. There is no doubt that this game has rapidly rising up the best game ladder in many websites I see.

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