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Plants vs Zombies review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Endlessly funny
  • Not just random or simple
  • Ridiculously good value
  • Not good for your clicking finger
  • May make you see zombies in your sleep
  • Oddities aren't immediately intuitive

This was on the tip of everyone’s tongues; PopCap just gave it a name. The name they wanted to give it was Lawn of the Dead, but apparently there were issues with that. You have a lawn. Soon, the dead will attempt to cross it and eat – as the game puts it in dripping green capitals – “YOUR BRAINS!” To stop them, you collect blobs of sunlight generated by your Sunflowers, and spend them by placing plants that shoot, block, trap, freeze, eat or explode the zombie hordes.

It’s genuinely one of the most exciting games we’ve played this year. It takes a few onslaughts to accept its oddities: zombies won’t navigate around plants in their way, those plants can only shoot directly forwards, and you can’t place many different types at first. If someone had, rashly, told you that it’s PopCap’s take on tower defence games, you might taste the familiar tang of disappointment. Forget it. Plants vs Zombies belongs to no genre we know, and it’s casual only in the sense that it’s easy to understand. There’s nothing casual about the 30 goddamn hours we’ve spent, effectively, gardening. PopCap supplied us (and presumably other reviewers) with a guide to what to see if you only play it for an hour. We can promise them now that even the laziest, most wretched hack in this industry won’t need it.

The key is that scant tool belt of seeds you can sow: it grows. In fact, you get a new plant type to play with at the end of every level for about seven hours – the total running time of the ‘Adventure’ mode. Soon the seeds available outnumber the maximum you can take on a level - initially seven. So long before you’ve unlocked all 48, the decision of which ones to take with you becomes agonising. If you take both the Wall-Nut and the Tall-Nut for defence, you won’t have space to take the Split Pea to shoot backwards at any burrowing zombies that might get past your Magnet Shrooms. It’s a tough goddamn call.

It helps that you get to peer over your garden fence before a level starts, to see which zombie types are incoming. For a while, the most advanced is a zombie who has had the debatable wit to place a bucket on his head for protection. But soon you’re flooded with more formidable – equally adorable – configurations of ambulatory stiff.

Thriller zombies in red leather jackets, strutting their considerable stuff to summon backup dancer zombies. Floating zombies suspended by helium balloons, miner zombies who tunnel beneath your garden and eat their way back out, crazy zombies who blow themselves up, zombies on bungee ropes, zombies in bobsleds, zombies riding zombie dolphins.

There are counter-plants for each, but the more effective ones only counter one or two types. You tend to learn the hard way which zombies absolutely have to be crushed the second they show up, and which will generally succumb to raw firepower despite their special abilities. Since the mix on each level is different, PvZ never lets you settle into a comfortable build order for your garden, or preferred set of plants.

The drip-feed of new toys is what keeps the Adventure exciting, but very quietly, another side to PvZ is building in the background. Sets of levels are punctuated with silly little minigames, and mysterious options appear on the main menu. By the time you finish the Adventure, the obscene wealth of other things to do already outweighs it for entertainment value.

These minigames, challenges, shops and pet projects are all tied together by an economy: some zombies drop money when they die, all minigames give cash rewards, and your Zen Garden generates a steady stream of income. Your profit from all of these can be spent at Crazy Dave’s car boot sale. Some extremely expensive but extremely tantalising plant upgrades give a powerful impetus to play any and all modes that make you money.

A few of the extra ways to play deserve special mention: Beghouled is a pitch-perfect mash-up in which you play Bejeweled with your plants even as the zombies try to chomp through them, adding strategy to which types you choose to match. Last Stand lets you take as long as you want to design the perfect garden with an enormous budget, but leaves you helpless to watch once the zombies pour in. Our favourite is I, Zombie: a delicious reversal in which you have to choose which zombie types to purchase to strategically decimate a preset garden.

We love Bejeweled and Peggle, but we stop playing those games when we tire momentarily of their singular mechanic, or get irritated by their random elements. We stop playing Plants vs Zombies when someone makes us. It has neither of those limitations, and more substance, invention, humour and depth than either game. It’s not a hardcore strategy game, nor is it a hard strategy game, but it is a strategy game. And a strategy game by PopCap turns out to be a frighteningly compelling thing.

May 13, 2009

More Info

Release date: Jan 18 2011 - DS
Sep 08 2010 - Xbox 360
May 05 2009 - PC (US)
Sep 08 2010 - Xbox 360 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS Vita, DS, iPhone, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Strategy
Published by: Popcap
Developed by: Popcap
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Animated Blood, Cartoon Violence

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19 comments

  • Zepaw - September 24, 2010 7 a.m.

    Only iPhone game I did not get sick of after 10 minutes. Insanely good. "I'm waiting for the XBLA release though." Only took a year and a half.
  • donxiomai - March 29, 2010 5:39 a.m.

    this is a very great game !!
  • Nobody - November 28, 2009 9:12 p.m.

    GOT IT FOR 5 DOLLARS ON STEAM SALE! AMAZING GAME!
  • bugmenot - May 15, 2009 9:38 p.m.

    Fantastic game, haven't beaten it yet but I intend to over the weekend. Incidentally, I'm one of those people that pirate a game, play it for an hour, then delete it (also the kind that logs into sites requiring a login using bugmenot). But it should be mentioned that I voluntarily gave them $10.00 for the experience I have gotten thus far. Kudos PopCap.
  • Spybreak8 - May 15, 2009 9:56 a.m.

    You know the demo was a lot of fun and I could see where this could actually be hours of gameplay. Not bad Popcap, you must have geniuses in your think tank. I'm waiting for the XBLA release though.
  • frag - May 15, 2009 3:14 a.m.

    This game is awesome for the 10$ it cost you. I wish mainstream games could provide this quality all the time(proportionaly speaking).
  • EYE8URBRAINS - May 14, 2009 12:45 a.m.

    I've beaten the game, and it is the best defense games I have ever played! I'm a big fan of Insaniquarium, and now this!
  • Hobojedi - May 13, 2009 10:42 p.m.

    It seems cool, but from the screen shots, it looks a bit complicated.
  • FloydChaos - July 25, 2009 4:09 a.m.

    This game can make you feel like it can go forever but then a side of you doesn't want it to stop. Overall it's really fun and i cant leave it alon!!!
  • Spybreak8 - May 22, 2009 8:17 a.m.

    Well Steam had it for 10 bucks and I'm now 10 dollars in the hole. Very enjoyable game and I love the humor, gameplay and of course unlocking mini-games lol.
  • KatamariLovesSpock - May 17, 2009 3:14 p.m.

    This game looks great, I hope it comes out on XBLA. xP
  • IHazCheezburger - May 17, 2009 9:42 a.m.

    Thanks for the helpful review. I downloaded the demo on Steam, liked it, so I purchased the full game. Well worth every penny. For 10 dollars, this is an incredible value and a great game. I would definitely suggest trying it out to anyone that reads this, if you have spare time that you want to throw away forever.
  • dukethepcdr - May 16, 2009 12:19 a.m.

    Maybe it's fun to play, but it looks stupid. Of course, I never really have liked "tower defense" games anyway. The only games I've liked with any "tower defense" in them were games like Stronghold where you got to build your own tower and a castle to go with it and then defend it if you played one of the modes where enemies came at your castle. The other versions of the same idea like this reviewed game are just weird.
  • Schmegeggi - May 14, 2009 3:11 a.m.

    Damn you GR and PCG! And damn Steam for offering a free 1 hour demo. Another chunk of my life murdered by a Pop Cap game. I'd almost be better off with a drug addiction of some kind. Braaaaiiins
  • Grenade - May 14, 2009 1:13 a.m.

    Hobojedi = Not at all. You select a plant, place it in a row, and it attacks zombies.
  • drprofessor - May 13, 2009 11:27 p.m.

    I hate Pop Cap. How much of my life must they demand? Soulless bastards. Oh, well...*pulls out credit card*
  • bakakaba - May 13, 2009 10:49 p.m.

    Totally agree with the review. It's one of the most fun games I've played so far this year, and it's only 10 bucks! Even if you don't like Peggle or other Popcap games I urge you to at least try this as I'm pretty sure there is a demo on Steam and elsewhere.
  • GoldenMe - May 13, 2009 10:45 p.m.

    Huh. PopCap made another good game. I wonder if this will make it to XBL Marketplace... That would be great.
  • piccolodevilking - May 13, 2009 9:54 p.m.

    wanna play it first

Showing 1-19 of 19 comments

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