|Plants vs. Zombies|
|Platforms||Windows, OSX, iOS, Android, DS, XBLA, PSN, Windows Phone|
|Genre||Casual brain munchy tower defense|
|Buy from Steam|
Plants vs. Zombies is a game I've been eyeing for a while. It regularly tempted me at $10 Steam with even cheaper sale prices. This summer's sale finally put me over the edge. Every so often you need some good tower defense action, and PvZ seemed like a unique yet highly praised take on the genre. Its cartoonish, Popcap/flash feel and simple five-lane setup makes things perfect for beginners. And it has enjoyed massive success over a huge variety of platforms. Originating on PC, PvZ has since expanded to every modern platform imaginable, both traditional and mobile. Popcap is undeniably a casual gaming powerhouse. The Bejeweled and Feeding Frenzy creators certainly know how to make products and pricing that clicks with the average consumer. They've been so successful that EA recently purchased the company for ~$750 million.
For the most part, PvZ exemplifies this success. It creates a casual-friendly atmosphere with calculated progressive learning combined with enough longevity and a tad of optional difficulty to round out the complete package. The game starts slowly, at first holding your hand with only a couple plant options (towers) available to defend your house from a weak zombie horde on a completely barren level. With only five lanes to defend, beginners will learn quickly what it takes to operate. In case they make mistakes, the game includes a get-out-of-jail-free card, in the form of zombie-clearing machines that activate and clear the lane should a zombie make it past the plants. For a while, the game introduces a new plant on almost every level, encouraging the player to try them out and discover what they're worth. Soon enough, juggling several plant types on more obnoxious levels will be a requirement.
The story mode itself leads you through five levels with around ten stages each. The first level in each stage is essentially an introduction to the new environment and the middle levels encourage experimenting with the new plants you receive. The last level in each stage is a welcome reprive, with hurried battles that grant you free plants over time, removing the need to play the money metagame and focus on a different kind of strategy. Story mode does drag on, especially for more experienced players who will be desperately wishing for the fast-forward button that exists in most tower defense games. But it does do a good job teaching you about all the possible plant types and lasts a good while for those just wanting longevity. The story itself is a bit barebones as you'd expect, but it all holds its character well.
Once story mode is complete, players will have unlocked both minigames and survival modes to try (in addition to being able to play with their garden plant "simulator"). The minigames are a bit hit-or-miss, but some can be extremely fun while also offering much improved difficulty over the story mode. Unfortunately, some also seem tuned to have all plants fully unlocked, which takes a significant amount of time to farm the money to unlock. These minigames, some of which are teased during the story mode itself, include zombie bowling, "begouled," "whack-a-zombie," a mode where zombies have plants on their heads to fight back, and more. They're not all tuned perfectly, but can be very fun and even potentially steal the show from the story mode. The minigames and survival modes add significant replay value and add to the store/zen garden as strong encouragers to continue playing after the fact. Steam logged me around 30 hours total on the game in order to unlock everything in the store (despite quite a few of those being afk money farming on endless modes).
In the end, I was mostly impressed at a good overall balance between catering to casual and advanced players. While the lack of any fast-forward function is fairly inexcusable and made the game a lot longer/slower than it needed to be, I can tell right away that everything was designed from the start to attract all kinds of players to both try it and continue playing. The presentation is very colorful and welcoming, yet clean with perfect animation and visuals. Both plans and zombies visually show damage well through accessories becoming dented, limbs falling off, or bites taken out of their bodies. The music is generally low-key and fairly simple but can also be memorable at times. The ending music video was unexpected and a perfect finish to the game after a boss fight that actually had a good deal of difficulty. Most of the game felt slow and generally easy to me. Foolproof repeatable strategies removed some of the fun as slow early zombie waves make it too easy to set up an inpenetrable defense. But the progression and plant additions pace PvZ well enough for players to continue to the ending. The story would have been dragging if it had been stretched much further.
Overall, I came out impressed at the ease of use yet remarkable replay value they managed to squeeze out of this game. For a casual player, PvZ would be close to perfect, depending on how much the person likes the cutesy/random style. Regardless, this is a strongly recommended game and a solid addition to the tower defense genre.