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Plants vs Zombies Review

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In my first game review here, it is suggested that I should do a game that’s “bigger”. I decided to touch on a more popular game that more people had heard. Popcap is one my favourite game companies, so I decided to review a game by that awesome company. However, their games are not exactly “big”, as in big budget, like what EA (Popcap’s in EA’s hands now) and Konami churn out. There are possible exceptions to the rule, like Bookworm Adventures’ budget of half a million dollars, Bejeweled 3’s high production values, or possibly Gyromancer, a game collaboratively made by Popcap and Square-Enix. However, as much as I don’t like to review popular games because it won’t receive much notice among the other reviews, I think I need to do it in order to receive feedback on my take on reviewing games.

As I have said before, the game I will review today is a game by Popcap, and while they have other games, I will go for a game pretty much everyone heard. As such, I present to you the critically acclaimed Plants vs Zombies. There are many platforms in which this game is available, but I am going to delve into the PC version of the game, where it all started.

(Title screen)

I am sure this concept means the game doesn’t have a lot of common sense going for it, but that actually makes it cool, because it adds to the fun of the game! The decision to use Plants and Zombies are actually justified, believe it or not. Plants are chosen because they stick in one place, while the zombies are chosen because of their overall sluggish movement. Neither of these sound like they’re related, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s a cartoonish game, after all.

At first glance, you probably don’t know what the game’s genre suggests. It sounds like a real-time strategy game between the opposing forces of flora and the revenants. Actually, this game plays like a tower-defence game, which is a type of real-time strategy game. To the uninformed, a tower-defence game is basically where you have to deploy weapons to defeat incoming enemy forces and protect your home base. Basically, the plants are your weapons, the zombies are your enemy forces, and the homeowner is the “home base”.

(A sample of how the game works. Your arsenal, the seed packets, is at the top left part, with their cost
written in numbers. Your progress in a level is indicated by a gauge at the bottom right corner.)

Perhaps that explanation is too simple, so I shall explain how this game is played. Before the level begins, you will choose the plants you want to plant in that level. After that, when the level begins, you could start planting the plants, and each type of plant has a different function. Sunflowers are used to generate Sun, which is your main currency for planting. You could also gather Sun during the daytime, as there will occasionally be a Sun dropping from the sky. Simply click them to collect them. Each plant has a different cost, and if you have enough Sun, you could plant it somewhere you could plant. However, you can’t immediately plant the same plant, because you need to wait for a certain period of time to plant another. Some plants take long to recharge, but some will be immediately available after planting one. Just remember to manage your Sun well!

Eventually, there will be zombies coming into the lawn, with an accompanying UFO-like sound effect (it sounded outlandish). The horde will start small, but will eventually come in a larger number, and at one point, there will be a huge wave of zombies to top it all. There is a gauge at the bottom right corner of the screen to indicate how far in the level you progress, so if you pay attention to it, you could anticipate when the huge wave is coming. The zombies are persistent, as they will eat the first plant they could lay their hands on, until they reach the other side. Fortunately, there are lawn mowers, which will clear a row of zombies, providing a safety net for the player. Be careful, as an unguarded row means that if a zombie made their way across, it’s game over for you! There are different types of zombies as well, and the special ones have a unique specialty that makes them harder to deal with, although they each have a weakness. For example, the Pole Vaulting Zombie moves fast and will leap over the first plant it sees, but once it leaped, it becomes slow. Because you get to see which zombies will appear (and their frequency), you get to plan what plants you need before the battle commences.

The plants you need for the job are ones that could damage and eventually decapitate the zombies, like the simple Peashooters. This is where the strategy element comes in. You are supposed to plan the best layout of your plants so that you are able to take care of the zombies that dare enter the lawn (wait, that’s all of them!), while gathering as much Sun as possible to plant more plants. Once the last wave of zombies is defeated, you will be rewarded. If playing that level for the first time, you will earn something new, like a new plant for you to use, or a new item that introduces something new to the player. The second time through, though, will provide the player with actual cash, which is used to purchase certain things. More on that later.

There are five different types of fields in the game, and each field in the Adventure mode are separated into ten levels each. Each field has their own unique characteristics, making the ideal strategy for each of them different. For example, the second field introduced in the game is the night level on the front yard, and in those kinds of levels, Sun won’t be generated, forcing you to rely on plants for extra Sun. At night, mushrooms are immediately active, whereas they will usually be sleeping during the day. Finally, those levels have gravestones, which are not only unsuitable for planting, but a zombie will sprout out if a wave of zombies is emerging. I urge you to play the game and explore the different properties on each level. The fifth level always contain a different minigame, which are all fun, and are a nice break from the possibly tense levels you may have played earlier. The tenth level is also different from the norm, as plants are only available through a conveyor belt. They will appear once in a while, but the plus side is that they are free. They are similar to boss levels in that you are to fend off the persistent zombies with a different form of arsenal.

(This is how the front yard looks like at night. Highlights include gravestones and a lack of sunlight from the sky.
Due to the lack of extra Sun at night, the cheap cost of mushrooms comes in handy.
Note: Dancing Zombies don’t look like this in recent versions of the game.)

The way the game introduces new things is very well done. This is because it keeps things simple at the beginning, and new things are introduced little by little, allowing new players to learn the ropes in a progressively natural way, and not overwhelm them with too many things on the get-go. The game’s tutorial is actually blended with the main levels you are playing, which is good, because it allows players to not only learn how the play the game, but it also allows them to progress at the same time. You could say that this kills two birds with one stone! Some things are introduced later, like Mini-games and Zen Garden. Both of them will be explained a bit later.

The game comes with four modes, and one of them is Adventure, which is already explained. The second mode is the Mini-games mode, which contains 20 unique and fun minigames with varying difficulties, and more will only be available if you succeed in one of them, as well as finishing Adventure mode at least once. The third is Puzzle mode, containing two different types of puzzles (Vasebraker and I, Zombie) interspersed into different levels, which will only be playable in full once you finish Adventure mode. Basically, in Vasebreaker, you are supposed to break all the vases and defeat all the zombies to win. For “I, Zombie”, you deploy zombies to eat all the brains, while outsmarting the plants (made out of live cardboard, I must add) that block your way. The fourth mode is the Survival mode, in which you could only play once you finish Adventure mode, unlike the other two modes. Each survival stage will allow you to change plants once you finished a wave (two waves in the Hard versions), allowing you to change your strategy every once in a while. The normal ones will last for five rounds, but the Endless version will last as long as you could survive the hordes.

(One of the Mini-games is Bobsled Bonanza. It’s one of the hardest mini-games. Seriously.)

Even though you have to play the game to understand what Zen Garden’s all about, I decided to explain it firsthand. In the game, you should have earned some money, in the form of silver coins (worth 10$), gold coins (50$) and a diamond (1000$). The Zen Garden is also a way to earn some extra income too. The money could be used to purchase new seed packets, some items that will help in the game, and certainly things for your Zen Garden. While Marigolds are the default plant you have, you might sometimes obtain new plants for your Zen Garden while you play, which is your only means of getting different plants. The plants in Zen Garden will need water, but once they got enough, they will demand something different, like music (use the phonograph to appease to this need) or fertiliser (if they’re not fully-grown). Once they’re satisfied, they will keep sprouting money, so you could collect them, although it would be a chore to amass them (there is a way to solve this; play the game to find that out!).

The music in the game has in common is how they have a mix between spookiness and humour, giving it a unique feel suitable for the game. The game’s music is very catchy, and I recommend you to hear the game’s soundtrack if you can. Each level has a theme that sounds suitable to them, like the first level’s calm tune. Something unique to this game is the music video. This video is used as a trailer of sorts to promote the game, and it’s fairly awesome. Don’t worry, because the game comes with it too, but you should find out when this music video plays, because I don’t want to spoil it.

(Part of the music video. Perhaps you ought to watch it sometime.)

Graphically, the game has a cartoony feel to it, and that works well because, well, is plants battling zombies even a serious concept anyway? The way the characters and backdrops are drawn make them look like they’re hand-drawn, so they look very clean and wouldn’t likely to go out of style anytime soon. Also, something to tell you now, if too many things are happening on the screen at once, like too many zombies and too many projectiles flying, the game might slow down if your computer’s slow.

The version which I have is actually the original version. If you were to purchase the game, it would likely be the “Game of the Year” version, where there are such things like Achievements, a Zombatar (a portmanteau of zombie and avatar) and certain modified content. One such modified content is the Dancing Zombie. While the newer versions gave us the stereotypical disco type, the old ones have the likeness of Michael Jackson, which is both funny and sad, considering how he passed away six weeks after this game’s release. Since I don’t have the new version, I can’t comment on the new additions future versions have. The other versions have their own perks, so be sure to take a look at them too. For example, the Xbox Live Arcade version contains a competitive multiplayer where one player controls the Plant side, while the other commands the Zombie side. The DS has a few new mini-games exclusive to it.

(The Xbox version includes a Player Vs Player mode. One side takes Plants and the other takes Zombies. Image is courtesy of IGN.)

The game’s formula of resource development, resource building and combat never gets old, which was also applied in Insaniquarium, so it says something about how functional the gameplay is. Not only that, there is a lot to do in the game, like getting new records in the Endless game in Survival (or Vasebreaker, or even I, Zombie) and performing some self-imposed challenges if you wish, you will get your value’s worth with the game, possibly more. Anyone could play it, it’s a must-buy, and you won’t regret it.

Score: 10 out of 10!

+ Very engaging gameplay
+ Endless possibilities in terms of strategies
+ Lots to do in the game
+ Humorous
+ Catchy music

- Ugly mouse cursor


Thanks for reading.
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  1. HumanDawn's Avatar
    I beat this game back in last summer! Ahh the memories...

    I'm surprised that you didn't mention that the Peashooters look like Bellsprout :P.
  2. winstein's Avatar
    @Human; To be honest, that didn't cross my mind. While they do have some similarities, I don't normally use Peashooters because I could manage with Repeaters, due to those useful self-destruct plants. That's why Peashooters never cross my mind. Also, I didn't create this review with Pokemon fans in mind to convince, but for practice in typing game reviews. That's why I requested feedback from those who read my game reviews, to see how well it is done.

    Thanks for reading.


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