You would be forgiven for saying you’ve had your fill of tower defense games. The past couple years has seen a flood of these strategy clones filling casual portals like the iPhone and PC. But you know who might be able to bring you back: the people that brought you Peggle. PopCap, one of the best casual developers and publishers around, has delivered Plants vs. Zombies, its first tower defense game. While it uses the basic mechanics of all efforts in this genre, it boasts charm, personality, and gobs of gameplay variety. The result is another addictive experience that will appeal to all walks of gamers.
Zombies are creeping on your lawn, and your garden is your last line of defense against these brain-crazy cannibals. You have some pretty peculiar (but useful) plants at your disposal, including pea shooters that spit green balls at the undead, hot tamales that burn everything in their path, and Venus zombie traps. By planting various seeds in strategic locations around your lawn you may be able to hold off the onslaught and keep them from entering your house and eating your brain.
Unlike many tower defense games there isn’t a winding path the zombies follow towards your home. The yard is divided into six rows and zombies shuffle in fairly orderly. They won’t cross over into other lanes but you will find multiple bodies coming in on one row. It’s a very simple concept and, in fact, when you first play Plants vs. Zombies you may find it to be too laid back; too easy. But the real draw here is the incredible variety of plants (towers) and zombies. There are 48 kinds of plants with numerous offensive, defensive, and production capabilities, and 26 different zombies. Completing each level in the game will unlock a new plant or item to add to your arsenal. These constant rewards really keep you involved and will have you saying “just one more level” long after you initially thought there wasn’t much to the game.
At the start of each round you can pick which seeds to take into battle. You only have a limited amount of slots in your inventory, although you can increase your stash over time. With such an assortment of abilities and resource demands, half the battle is in picking effective weapons. The array of choices means you can customize your strategy and confront the undead on your own terms.
There is also a wide variety of gameplay styles. Some levels take place during the day and some at night, which has a large effect on what plants are available to you, how you harvest sunlight (your resources), and what environmental obstacles you encounter. Interspersed among the regular levels are more arcade-like variations on the tower defense formula. You may lose the ability to select plants and instead deal with pre-selected weapons that come down a conveyor belt. Or you may be presented with a lawn full of vases waiting to be smashed – some hiding treasure, some zombies. There are even fun mini-games, a survival mode, and puzzles that let you play as the zombies. You can’t go more than a few minutes with this game without discovering something new and delightful.
Adding to the game’s charm is the cast of zombies, ranging from dancing Michael Jackson types straight out of the Thriller music video to aquatic zombies that ride dolphins (you have a pool in the backyard). The undead are amusingly animated and the game looks great in action. These aren’t your gruesome Left 4 Dead or Resident Evil zombies. This is a zombie game for the whole family (never thought I’d say that).
Plants vs. Zombies also has a catchy, organic soundtrack that becomes more intense as your yard is flooded with enemies. The light voice acting gives the undead character as they lurch toward your house grunting and moaning for brains.