Before I start, I might warn you that this review will be somewhat biased. The fact that the game has bob-sledding zombies and a Michael Jackson look-a-like zombie who summons back-up dancers my have clouded my judgement of the overall game, and perhaps the fantastic almanac and hilarious art design have distracted me from the core mechanics of the game. All in all, though, I have to say that this game is brilliant fun.
The premise is simple – you have to stop the horde of advancing zombies from reaching your house, and to do so you must employ your horticultural skills by planting different types of plats to shoot, explode, eat or slow the shuffling undead. Think of it as a kind of tower defence game, where the zombies slowly move from right to left, and your plants have to stop them doing that. By rights, the game should be a fun distraction, but nothing to get excited about. However, Popcap have proven once again that even the simplest ideas can be made incredibly addictive (see Peggle, and to a lesser extent Bookworm Adventures).
First of all, you might think that zombies are a simple enemy. You know where you are with zombies. Even zombie dolphins. However, the game throws quite a few curves when it comes to the shuffling targets advancing across your lawn. I’ll admit that I have not as yet completed the game, but I’ve gotten through a good chunk of it and the variation of zombies looks set to continue all the way through. These different zombies all need different tactics to take down, and you’ll quickly find yourself deliberating over whether you need this plant rather than that plant, and whether the upgrade to a turret peashooter is practically useful when you’re generally short on sunshine anyway.
That last sentance may seem a little close to gibberish at the moment, so let me clarify that statement. As in every tower defence game, you can’t just go around plopping turrets everywhere – there is of course a currency that you need to save up for the varying prices of the different plants, and naturally enough in Plants Vs Zombies that currency is sunshine. It’s earned by either waiting for it to fall out of the sky, or by growing sunflowers and the like to generate it more quickly and reliably. On top of this, later in the game you can purchase upgrades to your plants that is generally much more powerful than before, but also costs a vast amount more sunshine.
As you can tell, the game does get quite complex towards the latter part of the game but, this being a casual game, it never feels overwhelming until you are being overwhelmed by zombies. The pacing is pretty much perfect, although to the usual regular video gamer it will seem a little easy, especially to those who have palyer other tower defence games. However, for those players Popcap have thoughtfully included a Survival mode which, as the name suggests, asks the player to survive as long as possible as the enemies gradually get more and more numerous and tough until you inevitably fall. This is not the only extra mode the game gives you, and as you progress through the main game you will slowly unlock more and more minigames which all act as a fun distraction from the main event.
Another important point to make about this game (and given its name, you might think it would be unnecessary) is that it is extremely humorous. Everything, from the art style to the descriptions in the almanac has been made with the aim to make you laugh while you play and for me, at least, it succeeded. Take this description given to the zombie who attacks via water in a rubber duck ring:
It takes a certain kind of zombie to be a ducky tuber. Not every zombie can handle it. Some crack. They can’t take it. They walk away and give up on brains forever.
It’s exactly the kind of humour that I enjoy, and the fact that it’s all very silly really adds to the game’s charm.
All this having been said, some of you might still be thinking that £7 (on Steam, Popcap are selling it for a frankly insane £15) is a little steep for a game labelled as ‘casual’, and it’s a fair comment. Judging from Popcap’s last few games, you can be forgiven for thinking that all you are getting is the basis for an addictive game, but without the variation to really keep you going. However, I would say that this game does contain that depth. It might start out a little easy, but by the end you will be frantically holding back the horde of zombies and all the while chuckling at the insane minds that came up with this game. Still not convinced? try the demo.