(originally published at Smile Politely, 5/20)
Itâ€™s easy to understand why zombies have long been a gaming staple. For starters, they’re overwhelming in packs and exceptionally speedy (post-“28 Days Later”). However, in recent months, it seems that video game developers have been returning to the undead far too often, with Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil 5 as the only major standouts. Likewise, in the wake of successful, free Flash games like Desktop Tower Defense, many â€œtower defenseâ€ clones have diluted the sub-genreâ€™s appeal. Thankfully, PopCapâ€™s Plants Vs. Zombies has combined the two genres with enough cartoon silliness to keep things fresh.
Like DTD, PixelJunk Monsters and so many others, Plants Vs. Zombies asks players to build sentry turrets, minefields, anti-air weaponry, and other defensive structures to defend a base. In this case, said structures are all plant/vegetable-based – pea shooters, cabbage catapults, and nocturnal mushrooms. More than fifty species are at your disposal in order to keep zombies from invading your suburban home and eating your brain.
Of course, there are limits to what you can build. Each plant costs solar power, and so it is up to the player to balance building with resource management. To keep things from getting too unwieldy, players are also forced to choose six to nine species to bring into battle. After a few hours of play, youâ€™ll definitely find a combination that works for you, but there is enough enemy variety to still keep you guessing.
You will encounter the traditional shufflers, some of whom are wearing traffic cones or buckets as makeshift helmets. Soon afterwards, though, the game takes a turn for the wacky. Suddenly, zombies start driving Zambonis (with bobsled zombies following closely behind) and riding zombie dolphins in the backyard pool. These new enemy types not only lend the game variety, but provide big smiles as well.
Despite these many wrinkles, Plants Vs. Zombies is very approachable. Some might argue that it is too much so, as the difficulty doesnâ€™t ramp up until the final few stages. Like PopCapâ€™s other offerings, this choice was deliberate; itâ€™s a tower defense game that even your mom can play. The developers did a brilliant job of easing players into the game. And for those with enough patience to make it through the campaign, the bonus modes may provide the additional challenge.
In addition to the main batch of levels, there are bonus stages with unique parameters to take into account. For instance, one stage makes the zombies invisible and you have to rely on your turretsâ€™ automated fire to pinpoint their locations. Another early stage only awards plants via a slot machine. Not all of these new modes are fun, but the creativity on display never ceases to impress.
While PopCap is currently selling Plants Vs. Zombies at a reasonable $20, Iâ€™d recommend logging on to Steam for a 50% discount. Itâ€™s the kind of game youâ€™ll be playing long after pop cultureâ€™s love affair with the undead has passed.