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Plants Vs. Zombies Review: Muster Your Salads To Arms!

Most people assume that when — not if — the zombie apocalypse finally befalls us, those with the largest caches of ammunition and nonperishable foods will be the most likely to survive. According to PopCap, however, those people have got it all wrong. It’s the gardeners and the greenhouse keepers who will survive, not by strength of arms and plentiful canned goods, but with fertile lawns, thriving flora and lots of sunshine.

Plants Vs. Zombies is a variant on the tower defense game, originally released in May 2009 for the Mac and PC computing platforms. The game met with nearly universal acclaim, received several gaming awards and nominations, and is the fastest-selling video game in PopCap Games’ history. With so much success at its back, it should come as no surprise that PopCap should choose to extend that success by bringing the title to the app store.

Plants Vs. Zombies sees players placing different types of plants, each with unique offensive or defensive capabilities, in defensive formations on their front lawn, back lawn and the roof of the house in order to prevent the zombie hoard from eating the residents’ brains. The playing field is divided into a number of horizontal tracks. In general, zombies will move toward the player’s house along a single track, and plants can only attack or defend against zombies in the track they are planted in.

Early in the game, players have only a limited selection of seed packs, affecting the different types of plants they can grow. As the game progresses, players will earn new seed pack types, enabling them to deploy a greater number and variety of defensive plants. During levels, players must gather sunlight in order to grow new plants. Sunlight falls from the sky or can be produced by planting sunflowers in your lawn; the player collects the sunlight by tapping on it. Before each stage, the player will be shown the types of zombies amassing in the street for the assault, and will be able to choose which seed packets to deploy for that stage.

Between the standard levels, players will purchase new seed packs and bonuses from their neighbor, Crazy Dave, and engage in mini-game levels like zombie bowling.

Likes:

Visual Presentation: The art direction in Plants Vs. Zombies is top-tier stuff. The plants are adorable, and the zombies are comedic in the extreme. The artists obviously had a good time with this one, and you will too.

Touch Controls: Touch controls are a natural fit for Plants Vs. Zombies. If anything, the game has improved in its transition from mouse-input to touch-input. Gathering sunshine was fairly tedious in the original game, forcing you to click all over the screen; now it’s a breeze. Placing plants is equally breezy. You can either tap a plant in your seed palette then tap the field to plant it, or tap and drag it into place. I prefer the second method as the it lights the tracks to indicate placement, and to prevent you planting in the wrong location.

The Zombies: The zombies are varied and hilarious. They will often wear traffic cones or buckets as protective gear, defend themselves with screen doors, or dress up as track stars and football players. Pole-vaulting zombies and leap over your first line of defenses, Michael Jackson zombies can dance other zombies up from their graves and dolphin zombies will invade your swimming pool. This stuff is classic!

The Humor: As if the zombies weren’t funny enough on their own, humor reigns throughout the package. Whether it’s your lunatic neighbor Crazy Dave, the puns (wall-nuts?) or the Help note from the zombies — “Help for Plants and Zombies Game: When the Zombies show up, just sit there and dont do anything. You win the game when the Zombies get to your houze.” — the game will have you laughing.

And the zombies must have had mummies who taught them to eat their vegetables before they could have dessert, because they’ll be munching their way through your plants before they can get at your brains.

The Music: Laura Shigihara’s soundtrack is brilliant, perfectly suited to the game. Combining elements of pop music and old console chiptunes, blending the macabre with goofiness, full of melodic hooks and musical complexity. Shigihara says she was inspired by the original Mega Man games in creating the music for Plants Vs. Zombies, and anyone familiar with the NES classics should be able to trace that influence throughout her work here.

Wanting to create a theme for the game, she even went so far as creating a separate and hilarious pop song. Honestly, how could you possibly not want to play the game after seeing this?

I dare you to get that song out of your head.

Dislikes:

No Bonus Modes: The bonus game modes from the original PC and Mac versions of the game have been excluded from the iPhone release. This includes the endless survival mode, the puzzle mode and several others. Hopefully we’ll see these modes added later in updates or as DLC; no official word yet. It’s shame not to have them in the game.

Lacking Difficulty: Plants Vs. Zombie is definitely a casual game, and not aimed at the hardcore tower defense gamers. Most players should be able to finish the game with little difficulty.

Slowdown: Playing on an iPhone 3G, Plants Vs. Zombies suffers from slowdown when there are a lot of plants and zombies on screen. It’s not enough to break the game or kill the fun, but it does hamper the experience. The game reportedly runs well on the 3GS model phones, but those owner older devices should take this issue into consideration.

Long Initial Load: If it’s what it takes to play the game, then so be it. But that first load when you start the game up seems to last forever. Beyond that, loads aren’t too bad, but this is probably not a game you’re going to fire up when short on time and just looking to kill a few minutes.

I was already a fan of Plants Vs. Zombies, having purchased it day-of-release for my Mac back in May. Despite having already played the game on my desktop, I was still overjoyed to get my hands on the iPhone version. Popular contemporary games tend to push drama over characteristics such as charm, humor and pure fun, and so Plants Vs. Zombies is something of a throwback to older paradigms, combining all three into a unique and whimsical title not to be missed. If you like games even a little bit, then you owe it to yourself to play Plants Vs. Zombies.

If your remain somehow unconvinced, give the free Flash demo a try. Also, be sure to check out some of the ridiculous Zombie Temp Worker videos on YouTube that PopCap used as market for the desktop version of the game. With all this, Plants Vs. Zombies goes beyond the game, becoming something more like a phenomenon.

Plants Vs. Zombies is published by PopCap Games, and costs $2.99. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G.




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