Plants Vs Zombies
Plants Vs Zombies is as charming, comedic and innovative as it is basic and intuitive. Popcap's new take on the well explored tower-defence formula provides both a respectable gaming challenge and a fair number of hours of varied gameplay. The music video which showed up on YouTube a good month prior to release is an embodiment of the work ethic which has gone into this product - creativity, finesse, attention to detail, 'cuteness' and base-level addictivity. The core premise sees you having to defend your lawn from a hoard of zombies, and you do so by building a defence of plants.
Not only does PvZ provide an excellent campaign which lasts many challenging hours but also a great many more hours of variations on the theme - mini-games, puzzles, a shop of unlockables, and even more obscure stuff like the Zen garden (kind of like a plant sim where you come back every few hours to water the plants, feed them fertilizer, et al). The entire experience from start to finish is packed full of entertaining quirks, comedy pop-ups, collectables, and extra challenges to keep you hooked; peppered throughout with the occasional input of resident psychopath 'Crazy Bob' - essentially the game's mascot and something of a tutorial guide.
PvZ's basic premise is one that any level of gamer should feel comfortable understanding: zombies approach from the right along six separate horizontal lanes on the screen and must be stopped from reaching your home on the left side of the screen. This is achieved by placing plants which in some way hinder or destroy the zombies, usually by firing some kind of projectile which is determined by the type of plant.
Placing a plant uses - in real-time strategy language - a resource which Popcap have appropriately called "sun". This is spawned at timed intervals from certain kinds of plants, such as sunflowers, and drops regularly from the sky on day-light levels. You must click the sun in order to collect it, as is the case with various hidden unlockables and shop coins which zombies drop throughout the game, the overall effect being that whenever you are not planting plants you are frantically clicking to pick-up all the loose coins and sun which have landed on your screen.
There's something deeply satisfying about pounding a massive hoard of oncoming zombies with an array of ice bolts, peas, melons, and various other flora-based attacks and traps; seeing them plunge to the floor one after another. It's a kind of frenzied massacre of pleasure, like the satisfaction of seeing a hive of aliens getting wasted in Starship Troopers. But the game is so cartoony and family-friendly that Popcap have excluded no-one from enjoying their creation.
Zombies come in various flavours - wearing protective road cones on their heads which mean they can sustain more damage, pole-vaulting over the first plant they come across, driving large catapults to fire projectiles back at your defences, or even bungee jumping in to take-off with your plants. Likewise you have an array of defences available to them which increases as the game progresses and as you purchase more unlockables from the shop using the in-game coins you've collected. These plants begin with the basic sunflowers and peashooters, and later become more advanced defences with greater fire-power such as melon catapults and hypno-shrooms. At every level of the campaign you gain access to a new plant which a new type of ability thus again increasing the compulsion to carry on playing and satisfying a sense of reward for each level completed.
As the game progresses the land layout of the campaign levels changes to add even more variation to the gameplay. World two plunges the garden into darkness and introduces mushrooms - a cheaper alternative to daylight plants but hindered in that they sleep during the day-time. World three requires you to deal with two lanes of water zombies in place of the two central ground columns. Water isn't just a minor alteration to the game, it introduces a whole new set of water based plants and zombie-types which specialise in aquatic attacks. Also used in the game is a fog-of-war, which obscures your view of half the screen unless you have lantern plants to clear the view, and a steep roof terrain which requires the use of new angular ballistic plants to fire projectiles over the roof's gradient.
PvZ really excels in its ability to continually pull you back for more, not just because the main game itself is so addictive but also because of the vast variety of mini-games and unlockable gaming modes available which present a diverse range of gameplay based around the same concept. Each one of these offers a twist on the game which provides further enjoyment and longevity. Survival mode, for example, is a whole new gaming mode in which you must survive five increasingly tough hoards of zombies on an increasingly challenging map-type.
Another of the game types available is a mode where the tables are turned and you get to play as the zombies planning a siege against a fixed layout of plants. By strategically using weak zombies, strong zombies, and zombies with special abilities you can first break down the layers necessary to get to the sun flowers to buy more zombies, and then break through entirely to eat the brains and pass the level. It's one of those "wouldn't it be awesome if you could do this" fantasy scenarios which has been crafted into reality.
An example of the kind of mini-game found in PvZ is the 'Zombotany'. In this mini-game the zombies have the heads of your plants in place of their normal zombie faces. This allows them to fire projectiles, or use the other various special properties and abilities that the different plant-types have such as the rock plant which has a large number of hit-points, or the squash which jumps up and flattens adjacent enemies like a Mario Thwomp. Other mini-games include wall-nut bowling, slot machines, whack a zombie, portal combat, and a great many more; most of which employ a very different kind of playing style to that of the main game.
The graphical appearance and physics of the game engine have a kind of squeaky cleanness but shaded artsy perfection we've come to appreciate from all of Popcap's releases. As this is arguably their most complex product to date, so is it also their greatest achievement in terms of flawlessly smooth cartoony graphics and commendably sound physics. The cute sprites and happy-fun touches prevalent throughout the entire game are appealing to gamers of all ages. It is clear that attention to detail has been paid to every aspect of the game's appearance from Crazy Bob's animated madness to the rolls of spinning cabbage shooting across the screen.
Likewise the music and sounds throughout the game are very basic but equally apt. Despite the repetitive use of certain sound effects and musical scores, the sound leaves absolutely nothing to be desired from the various murmurings of "braaaaiins" from the oncoming zombie hoard, to the sickeningly joyous repeating motifs used throughout the game's musical score.
Plants Vs Zombies is clearly a labour of love and on top of that it's what you might call the perfection of simplistic budget gaming. The game stimulates the emotional mind from start to finish, providing the kind of spontaneous quick-fire stimulation that our minds have come to expect from 21st century lifestyles. At this price tag there is simply no reason why literally anyone could not purchase and enjoy this great game; addiction, variation, entertainment and simplicity all in one neat little package. Mad props.