“PopCap’s latest smash hit is their finest work yet.”
I have long enjoyed PopCap’s modestly priced puzzle games, ever since the first Bejeweled. After Bejeweled 2 and Peggle, I began to believe that PopCap could not be topped in the realm of puzzle games. While this is probably true, I never expected them to expand into another genre and make themselves very, very comfortable. Last year, PopCap released Plants vs Zombies, a tower defense based strategy game that may just be not only the finest tower defense game ever, but also PopCap’s best game to date.
There’s not much of a story to tell. In Plants vs Zombies, you take the role of a suburban home owner in a neighborhood that is being invaded by zombies. The zombies, naturally, want to break into your house and eat your brain. Where this game gets weird is with the introduction of your yard full of plants which you must use to stop the zombies from reaching your house. I don’t believe they ever explain why your garden comes to life, but I suspect it is probably a side effect of the zombies being brought back to life from the dead. Throughout the game, you’ll “bond” with your clinically insane neighbor who gives you tips on how to beat the zombies.
Plants vs Zombies is not a difficult game to learn. Players must plant sunflowers which provide them with sun points. These points work like money. Each plant that you can deploy costs a certain number of points, and when you have enough, you are able to plant one in your yard. There are many different kinds of zombies, ranging from zombies with buckets on their heads, to pogo stick riding zombies, and finally, Michael Jackson look-a-likes who call upon dancer zombies. To combat all of these zombies, you’ll need to use your head and deply the appropriate plants. Pogo stick zombies leap over plants and straight towards your house, but by setting a large walnut down, the pogo zombie will bump into them and fall down. It is not uncommon to see the odd zombie or two appear on a zamboni in later levels, which mow down all plans in whatever row they are making their way down. How do you stop that? Set down a spikeweed and it will pop the zamboni’s tires. Almost every zombie has a weakness like this, while many plants do not work well against particular zombies. Using the right plants at the right times is very important and, in some cases, is the key to sucess. Later levels make the player adjust to having a foggy night yard, a pool in the center rows of the yard, and eventually even fighting off the zombies on your roof. Some levels combine many themes, such as a foggy yard with a pool at night. These levels force the player to think much more than normal and work in the game’s favour.
Graphics, as they are in most PopCap games, are completely two dimensional and very friendly even on aged computers. Even on maximum settings, this game should still be silky smooth on older systems while still looking very nice. It’s worth noting that the plants are drawn very well, with most of them possessing a sort of cute charm. Zombies, despite their silly designs, look fantastic as the shamble towards you. When the stage is full of many different kinds of plants and zombies and the action becomes hectic is when this game truly shines and, for a two dimensional bargain game, looks absolutely fantastic as your plants all fire their own respective projectiles, breaking off of the approaching horde of zombies.
One area which this game truly shines in is the sound department. PopCap did a stellar job with the sound effects for Plants vs Zombies, as I don’t recall ever hearing a single sound that I disliked or found annoying to any degree. Everything sounds pretty good, especially the moans from the zombies, who also occasionally utter “brains” like any respectful zombie would. The music is, more or less, all well above the average benchmark. Though there is a playful, silly nature to most of the music tracks in this game, there is also a sense of dread and urgency layered in each track as the action picks up. It’s great music for a tower defense game. It all just sounds so silly and never takes itself seriously, but still manages to convey a serious threatening tone as the zombies approach. If Tim Burton ever made a tower defense game, this would be the soundtrack.
In terms of replayability, there’s lots to do. After completing the main game, you can replay it again and have your neighbor play a larger role by choosing your plants for you. There are also minigames and survival exercises, as well as a relaxing zen garden. You can also pick up coins throughout the game which you can use to spend in Crazy Dave’s shop to purchase new plants and upgrades. Even after beating the game, I found that there was still several hours worth of content still waiting for me.
Overall, Plants vs Zombies is just plain fantastic. It is currently my favourite PopCap game as well as my favourite tower defense game. The game is a blast to play and the atmosphere is very immersive for a game of this kind. If you are a fan of PopCap or even just tower defense games, you owe it to yourself to give this gem a try. At only $10 on Steam, you really can’t go wrong. Alternatively, you can also pick this game up on your iPod Touch or iPhone, and I can’t think of a better way to spend your time on the go!