Another Zombie Apocalypse
It’s finally happened! Again! The dead are rising from their graves, seeking the brains of the living to satiate their ravenous hunger! It’s only a matter of time before the zombies destroy all life on earth. And there’s not a thing you can do about it!
Or is there? It looks like the Bloom & Doom Seed Company anticipated a catastrophe of this magnitude, and has been selling the latest line of personal home security plants. That’s right, plants! From pea shooters that shoot peas with deadly accuracy, to man-eating Venus flytraps, they are ready and willing to defend your lawn from anything that dares to trespass onto it. So get your seeds and spades ready, because you’re going to garden to save your life!
Strange is Good
As you can see, the basic premise behind Plants vs. Zombies is, to put it lightly, very weird. But that’s okay, because it works out beautifully, lending itself to a dark and goofy sense of humor. Zombies come in all walks of “life,” with some charging your lawn in football uniforms, swimming in your pool while wearing snorkels, and others shuffling to your home while playing a game of Sudoku on their newspaper.
The plants are given just as much personality. An oversized walnut called a Wall-nut starts off wearing a happy grin that slowly but surely falters as it dawns on him that he’s being eaten alive. Meanwhile, the Chomper, a piranha plant wannabe that looks like it sprouted from the likes of Mario, grins hungrily at the encroaching threat of the zombies, and savors the taste of their succulent and rotten flesh, chewing slowly.
The game looks very nice, with every character given a distinct look, and animated smoothly. Equally impressive is just how many characters can appear on screen at once without so much as a dip in the frame rate.
Sound effects are handled with the same humorous affair, with our undead friends moaning the stereotypical “Braaaaiiinnsss!” and munching loudly as they devour your stalwart vegetable guardians. The music is pretty good too, often carrying an upbeat tune that strongly contrasts with the macabre proceedings you’ll be seeing with alarming frequency.
So How Do the Plants Fight the Zombies?
Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense game. Your house is on one side of the screen, zombie march in from the other, and in between is the grid where you deploy, or rather, plant your defenses.
You’re limited in what you can plant by the amount of Sunlight you have on hand, which is spent as currency in order to lay them down. Sunlight trickles down at a slow and uneven pace; in order to acquire more at a faster pace, you have to deploy Sunflowers, which provide additional Sunlight. This leaves you in a rather interesting but precarious position at the beginning of most levels, as you have to balance between planting Sunflowers and more defensive plants once the zombies start to enter.
Before the halfway point of the level is reached, you’ll often scramble hand to mouth to keep your defenses up. Plants in general only guard one row at a time, so all need to be properly defended, because if one zombie reaches the end, it’s all over!
Lots of Plant Defense Options
Thankfully, there are a lot of different plants of varying functionality ready to stand guard at your command. You start with the basic Pea Shooter, which, true to its name, shoots peas at the enemy. Later, you’ll acquire more exotic yet situational plants, such as the cherry bomb, which kills any zombie in square adjacent to it instantly, the Potato Mine, which explodes when stepped on, and the Wall-Nut, which doesn’t attack, but blocks zombie movement on the row until it’s eaten away.
This is only a small sampling of what you can do; there are a lot of plants you can use in Plants vs. Zombies, and they’re introduced slowly over the game’s Adventure mode, enough to keep you from getting complacent in a set strategy, or overwhelmed with options.
Zombies Play Rough
Just because their brains are rotting though, don’t think for a moment that the zombies are one-trick ponies. They’re just as varied in their techniques as the plants. Some zombies wear road cones and buckets on their heads to make them more durable. Others come running capable of pole-vaulting over your defenses. And as you get farther, some will have the ability to swoop anywhere onto the grid, often via bungee cord, or destroy your plants in one fell swoop.
The Environment is Not on Your Side
It gets better. The first few levels of the campaign do a good job at introducing you to the mechanics of the game, and you’ll quickly enough start developing some key tactics in them. But soon enough, the game sees fit to throw a curveball at you.
Nighttime levels are one; in these, your only source of Sunlight comes from Sunflowers, so you’ll have to rely on other kinds of defenses, like mushrooms that cost nothing, to survive. You’ll also have grid squares with objects on them that only serve to take up space where you can’t put a plant. Heck, even the zombies start getting in on it, laying trails of ice that they can then ride in on with bobsleds!
Simply put, the game makes sure that you’ll never relax, and you’ll continually be forced to come up with new strategies, and use the new plants you acquire, to succeed. Many may seem a tad too situational, but they do help make the levels feel more unique.
More Than Just a Tower Defense Game
But perhaps what’s so great about Plants vs. Zombies is its staggering amount of variety. As you play through the adventure, your tower defending may be put on hold for some mini-games, such as bowling. These are seldom as deep as the tower defense, but they do serve to stave off any potential monotony.
Even better are the many extras to unlock. Among them is Survival mode, which pits you against a never-ending horde of enemies, and stacks the odds so high that you’ll have to adopt wholly new strategies…and possibly use plants you may have otherwise ignored before.
But perhaps the most interesting unlockable is the I, Zombie mode, which allows you to play for the other side, sending zombies out against the gauntlet of plant defenders! It’s an interesting reversal that could have very well made a good standalone game in its own right.
Conclusion - Awesome Value and a Ton of Fun
Plants vs. Zombies never lets up. About the only problem in the base game is arguably the difficulty, or rather, lack of it. It keeps a gentle learning curve throughout, and though this serves to ease newcomers into the genre well enough, anyone experienced with tower defense might be put off by the ease of the whole thing.
Rest assured, though, it does get harder soon enough. And the aforementioned extra modes provide a challenge like no other.
In the end, Plants vs. Zombie is a fun, funny and addictive game with a lot to offer. Buy it!
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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