Let’s face it. Anybody who has played a PopCap game knows that PopCap has the addiction element down pat. Peggle players recount horror stories of playing until the late hours of the evening promising to stop playing after “just one more game” time and time again. Bejeweled took the internet by storm back in 2001, and every casual ga

me developer has worked tirelessly (to little avail) to match that special secret formula ever since. PopCap has perfected the art of creating addicting casual games that sell millions, so of course their most recent charmer, Plants vs. Zombies (PvZ), would fit the same mold, right? Right?

Unfortunately, Plants vs. Zombies just doesn’t deliver the goods we’d be certain would be there. Admittedly, this game is proving to be very difficult to review; the game obviously took a lot of time and effort, it’s funny, smooth, pretty, and ridiculously cute, the concept is great and the depth is sight unseen in the casual gaming market. Still, it just lacks that special something—the secret PopCap elixir to make gaming addicting and widely appealing. Maybe I’ve built a tolerance to the drug after hours of playing Puzzle Quest (a Bejeweled/RPG hybrid) and Peggle, but I literally had to force myself to keep playing PvZ just so I could finish and review the game.

A typical defense favors copying and pasting the same towers row-by-row.

A typical defense favors copying and pasting the same towers row-by-row.

At its heart, Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense with puzzle-like bits and pieces thrown in the mix. Zombies are after your brains, and you have to fend them off by planting rows of defensive plants on your lawn. As unreliable as that defense may sound, you will find that the humorously named plants, when used correctly, can make quick work of the zombies. Plant-weapons like the Fume Shroom and Cabbage-pult fire at zombies directly ahead of them, Snow Peas slow zombies down, and Wall-nuts (and later Tall-nuts) act as barriers that the zombies must tear down in order to advance. By the end of the adventure mode, you will have forty plants and fungi as well as a variety of purchasable upgrades at your disposal.

Resource management is key in Plants vs. Zombies, and it is certainly something that PopCap has perfected with its latest casual gaming entry. All plant production requires “sun”, which can be gathered from Sunflowers or Sun Shrooms. All bits of “sun” must be clicked in order to be gathered, and will disappear if not picked up fast enough. Even as you progress to a formidable force of defensive plants on your lawn, you’ll still be scrambling to pick up every last bit of sun in an endless effort to perfect your defenses.

After playing through the entire story, you'll finally have access to all the plants.  Getting the upgrades is a different story...

After playing through the entire story, you'll finally have access to all the plants. Getting the upgrades is a different story...

In the tower defense world, there are typically two distinct types of games: mazing (ala Comet Crash), and non-mazing (ala PixelJunk Monsters). Mazing TD’s allow the player to place defensive structures wherever he or she pleases, usually favoring an intestinal or maze-like defense for maximum tower efficiency. Non-mazing TD’s give the player pre-set locations to place towers around the sides of the path the monsters will be walking through. Non-mazing TD’s usually have a lot of down time as the player waits for the next wave to pass through the defenses and see if any survived. Plants vs. Zombies breaks the standard for tower defenses, there is no mazing involved—zombies walk in straight lines no matter what—but players are allowed to place defenses on any open spot on the lawn. There are five rows that the zombies can attack from, and they will continue to push forward through their specified rows eating any plants in their path until they reach your brain. This approach to tower defense creates an entirely new strategy, one that focuses more on careful observation and resource management for individual rows, and less on the total defensive complex as a whole.

The main adventure mode features five stages each with ten levels to defend. After each level’s final, huge wave of zombies, you will usually find a new plant to grow or a “threatening” letter written by the zombies. Every so often, a new kind of zombie will be introduced; these new zombies may have buckets on their heads to protect them from damage, they may be riding pogo sticks to pass over your plants, or they may even resemble Michael Jackson and disco their way through your defenses. Once you’ve beaten adventure mode, there are a ton of mini-games, puzzles, and survival challenges to beat. Through these extra modes, you’ll earn money which can be used to purchase add-ons to your customizable “zen garden”, new plant upgrades, or even a “tree of wisdom”, which offers overpriced “advice”.

Mini-games mix up the challenges a bit.

Mini-games mix up the challenges a bit.

The fun of Plants vs. Zombies wears off quickly, and it’s unfortunate that players need to grind through so many boring, repetitive levels in adventure mode just to reach the moderately interesting mini-games. Unless you’re the kind of person that finds pleasure in being slowly egged on by the promise of a new plant after every level, the lack of diversity shown in Plants vs. Zombies will likely turn you off.

Closing Comments:

It’s a strange feeling, but I really am disappointed in the fact that I don’t like this game; it seems like something I would really like! Certainly, every bit of Plants vs. Zombies was well thought out: all of the zombies are quirky and unique, the plants are charming, the graphics are smooth, and the music is appropriate. The real problem with PvZ is its artificial way of extending the gameplay. Levels get bland and repetitive after a few play-throughs, and plant upgrades are mobydiculously priced (and can only be earned by grinding through levels for hours on end). At a price point of $20, I definitely would not recommend this game; however, at the current Steam price of $9.99, it might be worth a try for any big PopCap fan. Still, there are so many other great games out there by less well-known developers that are much more worth your time.

The Rundown:

Platform: PC
Developer/Publisher: PopCap
Genre: Tower Defense / Puzzle
Offline Multiplayer: None
Online Multiplayer: None
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Website: Developer / Steam

Presentation: 8.5

Everything looks great—on the surface, PvZ seems like a great game. The menu system works great, and the almanac of plants and zombies is rather funny.

Graphics: 10

There are no slowdowns, jagged edges, or glitches. For a 2D game at $20, PvZ delivers beautifully.

Sound: 7.5

Every sound is just right, every action from picking up more sun to selecting menu items makes just the right sound. The music, although it swells at the right moments, gets very repetitive very fast. The song at the end of the game is a huge refresher.

Gameplay: 5

Frantic clicking doesn’t make up for bland gameplay. I had to force myself to keep playing this game. That alone obviously means that this game can’t be too much fun. While good games like inFAMOUS and Guild Wars had me constantly craving more gameplay, PvZ had me craving completion.

Lasting Appeal: 5

Players will spend countless hours working, not playing, to unlock everything in the game. The mini-games are fun, but they’re not the kinds of things you’ll be playing more than once.

OVERALL: 5.5 / D

More Screenshots:

bowling zen

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