It radiates brilliance at every turn.
I started this review at around half-eight in the evening, yet I haven’t written a single word. It’s now exactly seven minutes past ten, at night, and a dialogue box pops-up, asking me, “Are you sure you wish to quit the game?”
“Yes, goddamn you, I want to quit. I want to quit so bad. Why won’t you let me quit you, Plants vs. Zombies?”
Plants vs. Zombies is the latest game from PopCap, most famously known for their phenomenally successful Bejeweled games as well as the pachinko-inspired Peggle and Peggle Nights. Previously viewed with a mocking sidewards glance from much of the gaming press, PopCap has, without a doubt, cemented its reputation as a “proper”, “real” games developer with this release.
“But it’s still just Tower Defense, though, isn’t it?” Those were the words to carelessly fly out of my own mouth when I started seeing the screenshots and early first impressions. How wrong I was. And yet I was right: it is just Tower Defense, but to define the game on that sole basis would be to do it a tremendous disservice.
Here’s the lowdown: the zombie apocalypse is here, and now you must defend your propertah from those no good undead vermin. Luckily, you have a range of plant seeds at your disposal, but these aren’t just any normal seeds you hold in your hand; no, from these meagre beginnings sprout plants of all shapes, sizes and genotypes. They are your army, the last line of defense you have against the oncoming zombie invasion; you are their commander. The play area is divided into a two-dimensional grid of vertical and horizontal lanes – a no-man’s land, soon to be overrun by the littered, rotten remains of zombie corpses. Zombies come in from the right in waves; you need to “plant” your defenses to the left to stop any of them coming through and EATING YOUR BRAINS!
"Tonight, we dine in hell!"
The currency fuelling the war effort, here, is “sun”. You can gather sun tokens as they drop down from the sky at regular intervals, but the best way is through planting “Sunflower” plants, which spawn additional sun tokens, adding to your stockpile. Wars – just as in real life – are expensive, and you’re going to need access to cold, hard cash (or glowy balls of light – whatever) if you’re to protect the homestead and your plump cerebral tissue along with it. Your basic defensive plant is the “Peashooter”, which fires rounds of the little round vegetable at the zombies, slowly battering them to death. But there are also a variety of other plants at your disposal which you unlock as the game progresses. Highlights among these include the “Chomper”, a plant which can devour enemies one at a time, but leaves itself vulnerable while digesting its food; the “Hypno-shroom”, a hallucinogenic mushroom which when devoured by a zombie, turns him against the horde; and the “Squash” which, uh… well – believe it or not – squashes zombies as they approach.
All-in-all, there are over forty-plus plant variations, and although I’ve described a few here, there are many more that deserve mentions. Take, for instance, the humble “Potato Mine” – a horticultural booby-trap which explodes on contact with a zombie, but only after a period of time spent arming itself – which the Plants vs. Zombies “almanac” goes to describes as follows: “Some folks say Potato Mine is lazy, that he leaves everything to the last minute. Potato Mine says nothing. He’s too busy thinking about his investment strategy.”
You’re going to need Potato Mine’s help, too, if you’re to truly stand a chance against those devious zombies. Sure, the regular, bog-standard zombie isn’t much to worry about in the sights of a lined up Peashooter or two, but the Dancing Zombie? That’s going to be a problem. His “thrilling” dance moves – reminiscent of a rather famous, and subsequently disgraced, popstar – are lethal, as are his back-up dancers. Along with Dancing Zombie and just Zombie zombie, there are twenty-four additional mutations, all of which are superbly drawn and are as comical as they are deadly. (Well, in some cases, more comical than deadly, but, still…)
Would you trust this man?
Plants vs. Zombies has a terrific, cartoon-ish sense of humour, not just in terms of its graphics, but also in terms of its content and its overall design. PopCap has taken a well-worn genre – namely Tower Defense – and has fitted it with its own unique style and grace. Although Plants vs. Zombies isn’t particularly challenging or difficult, what stops the game from becoming boring is the sheer number of different ways you can play it, as well as the plethora of game types on offer– sorry, excuse me one second…
Okay, I’m back. The plants in my Zen Garden needed feeding. Seriously.
As I was saying, there is so much going in this game that if you do get bored with the main Adventure mode – fifty stages of rampaging zombie fun, from the frontyard to the back, through fog, sun and rain and, finally, to an epic rooftop encounter – there are a further twenty separate mini-games in total to play through, as well as a Puzzle mode, Survival mode and, lastly, the aforementioned Zen Garden mode, which is a kind of virtual pet simulation, but with plants.
It’s difficult to communicate genuine warmth and charm in a game, and, essentially, that’s what Plants vs. Zombies does. Amongst these things, it is also a brilliant and delightful time waster, but, most importantly, it’s an excellent game. It’s not completely perfect (as I said, the difficulty is just a crumb too easy) but it’s damn close to it. It’s just a fantastic, wonderful piece of work, one which does so much right in every single regard and deserves nothing but the highest of accolades.
Congratulations PopCap, welcome to the big leagues.
*Insert Wilhelm Scream here.*
Plants vs. Zombies is currently available for £14.95 on PopCap’s website, but you can get it for less than half that via Steam, who are selling it for £6.99 (including exclusive Steam achievements). There is also a one hour timed demo available both on Steam and on the PopCap website, for those who wish to try before they buy (like me).