Sunday, February 12, 2012

Game Review: Plants vs Zombies

If I were to make a “50 Games to Play Before You Die” list, this would be towards the top.
Plants vs Zombies (will now be abbreviated to PvZ) was originally released on the PC nearly three years ago, but was then released on a multitude of platforms including the iOS, the Xbox 360 Arcade, the Nintendo DS, Playstation Network, the Nintendo DSi, the Android phone and the Windows 7 Phone. I have played both the PC and Xbox 360 versions, the latter being released nearly a year and a half ago. This review will predominantly covering the Xbox 360 version. Popcap are the publishers of PvZ, who also have made other excellent quirky and cartoony titles like Peggle, Bejeweled and Zuma. I’ve reviewed Peggle on this site, if you’re interested in reading that click here.

PvZ is a tower defence strategy game, a genre that despite not being that new is not very popular. The purpose of this game, like most tower defence games, is to stop an enemy attack invading your base. It sounds quite boring when you explain it like that but trust me; PvZ is not a boring game. It’s not a game for people who are purely into strategy games. It’s a game for everyone, even kids, as its difficulty levels start of easy and develop from there, and the visual style of the game is open to everyone. Most importantly, PvZ is a very, very funny game, and that’s one of its best features.
All the zombies want to do is party! Honest...
So what is different from this game than from the ‘boring’ and ‘mastermind’ strategy games? Well your ‘enemy attack’ is zombies, and your ‘base’ is, well, your house. This is a zombie invasion, and the zombies want to come into your house and eat your brains. And what are you using to cancel out the zombie threat? Plants. Yes, plants. It sounds barmy and it is. It’s bonkers. But it’s absolutely brilliant.

The bizarre concept of Plants taking on Zombies and the battlefield being your garden sounds like someone had too many mushrooms, but somewhere in that curiously thought out storyline is a small amount of logic. The plants all have different purposes. And for the most part, they are real life plants. Your main source of firepower is a peashooter. A peashooter, well, shoots out, erm, peas, as you’d expect. These peas hit the zombies and damage them, after ten shots from a standard pea a zombie will be defeated. This is the basis of the game. But there are 51 different types of plant (although they’re not all plants, some are vegetables and mushrooms) and 26 different type of zombie (in the main game, there are other variances too).

The main mode of gameplay is “Adventure” mode, and, you cannot play any other game mode until you have played through a certain amount of the main “Adventure” mode. So you start off with a peashooter but as I said, there are 51 different types of plant in your arsenal. To use any of your plants you need to something called sunlight. Sunlight is gained in quantities of 25 once in a while from the sun itself (if it’s daytime, there are night time levels). But your main source of sunlight comes from another plant, the sunflower. You get the sunflower on your second level. Sunflowers also give you quantities of 25 sunlight at a time, at a more rapid rate than the sun itself. This is where the game starts to really unfold. You’ll slowly start unlocking more and more plants that do diverse things to battle more zombies that have different qualities.
Eventually you'll get all sorts of different plants to kick zombie butt with.
What other plants are there? You start off with a peashooter, then the sunflower, then the cherry bomb. The cherry bomb is a bomb, naturally, and explodes zombies in a certain area of the garden). Then, you get a wall-nut. What’s a wall-nut? Well it’s a play on words, from the walnut plant. It serves as a wall to block the zombies from advancing on the garden grass. It’s this excellent wordplay that makes the game so much fun. There are many real life plants (and other things like mushrooms as I said earlier) that play on the words and make use in the game. Other great plants available in the game are the Jalapeno, which is a chilli, and he explodes across a horizontal area of the garden and the garlic, which makes a zombie go towards a different lane in the garden. But the best in my opinion is the butternut squash, which, hilariously, squashes a zombie. It’s just brilliant. The humour and play on words are what really sells the game.

The zombies as I said also vary and get tougher as you go through “Adventure” mode. You start of with the standard zombie, who walks across the terrain and eats any plants that are in its path. The zombies come from the right side of the screen so the idea is to place your plants on the far left so the zombies are hopefully disposed of before they get to your plants. Later on zombies start wearing protection, first road cones that protect their head for a longer amount of time, and then a steel bucket. Then we get hilarious gimmick zombies, like the American Footballer zombie, who wears full head and body gear and runs instead of the sluggish walking the standard zombies do. Later on you also get silly zombies like the “Newspaper” zombie, who is reading a paper and when your peashooters or other plants that attack shoot the paper from his hands, he runs at you in an angry fashion. There’s also a pole vaulting zombie who also runs at your zombies, but then jumps over the first plant it comes across. Certain zombies are difficult to dispose of, but usually have a weakness plant. The pole vaulting zombie for instance, is opposed to the wall-nut; the zombie pole vaults over the wall-nut but then runs at a very slow pace, giving you ample time to dispose of it. The American Footballer zombie is weak against the Snow Pea, which is a peashooter that also freezes the zombies. So the Snow Pea slows down the American Footballer dramatically, making him a lot easier to dispose of. There’s an incredible amount of zombies that get both sillier and harder to deal with, which adds to the complexity of the game.

In “Adventure” mode you have 50 levels, all in segments of 10. The first 10 levels are in your front garden and are relatively easy to play. The game’s difficulty starts off so easily so everyone can play it. The second set of levels are done at night time. The night time levels are more difficult because you don’t have access to sunlight as easily. The sunflower is a lot less effective at night and instead it’s recommended you use a new plant that’s quickly unlocked at that point called the Sun-shroom which is much more useful. The night levels have new zombies and plants, and also other subtle things like graves that you can dispose of with a new plant called the “Grave Buster”. The third set of levels are once again in the daytime but brings the action to your back yard, which has a pool. The difficulty is once again risen as Zombies start using your pool, either by wearing rubber duck tube or worse, snorkels. The fourth round of “Adventure” mode is also in your back garden but this time it’s back to night time, but it’s even more difficult as a dark and thick fog covers most of the screen. You start using other plants like the “Plantern”, a lantern that makes seeing in the fog much easier and also the “Blover”, a blowing clover that gets rid of the fog completely on a temporary basis. The last 10 levels take the action to the extreme – the zombies invade your roof! Because of the slanted roof tiles peashooters are of no use here, instead you start using catapult plants, first the cabbage-pult, then the kernel-put which lobs churned butter at the enemy, and then, the melon-pult which deals heavy damage (because melons are heavy obviously). At the end of the game, level 50 (or 5-10 as it’s displayed on game), you go against the final boss.

The “Adventure” mode is a great game. It’s the main mode and it’s so much fun. It takes a good few hours to complete “Adventure” mode so it keeps you entertained for a while. When you beat “Adventure” mode you can replay it and the difficulty remains similar, apart from three of the plants are chosen at random for you in the beginning (where as you can choose your own plants at anytime otherwise).

Slowly going through “Adventure” mode unlocks other mini games, puzzle games and a “Survival” mode option. Some mini games are unlocked before completing “Adventure” mode, but to get full access to them you must complete the main game and then play through the mini games one by one. Beating the mini games one by one slowly unlocks the games individually. The mini games vary, the first game is called “Zom-botany”, which is a science experiment gone wrong where zombies merge with plants and attack your house. It’s a tactically completely different game to the main game and you have to think outside of the box a little to beat it. Other fun games include “Portal Combat”, which pays homage to the Portal series, where Portals appear on screen and zombies can walk through them and end up on another part of the screen, increasing the difficulty, and the Portals move as the level goes on to further add to the problems, another fun game is “Column Like You See 'Em”, which is an absolutely manic level where one plants equals a plant on every section vertically, and zombies come at you in equal measure; one zombie of that type in every vertical column. It’s complete madness but a lot of fun at the same time. There’s a total of twenty mini games and they’re all fun in different ways, and definitely fill the game up, giving you plenty to do if you finish the main game.
Crazy Dave is definitely one of the best things about PvZ, he's incredibly funny and CRAAAZYY!!
There are also twenty Puzzle games in the “Puzzle mode, but it’s only one of two types. First is “Vasebreaker”, which gives you a hammer to break vases containing either random plants or random zombies, and the task is you break all your vases, defeating all the zombies and protecting your house all at the same time. It’s tactically a tricky game to play as you don’t know if you’re breaking a vase that will help you or hinder you. There are ten different “Vasebreaker” levels and they vary in difficulty, ending in the last of the ten beign “Vasebreaker Endless”, which continues playing “Vasebreaker” for as long as you can, and you have to try and extend your undefeated streak for as long as possible. The other ten Puzzle games are “I, Zombie”. This Puzzle game puts you in the shoes of the zombies rather than the plants and your aim is to actually eat the brains of the person living in the house. Your zombies have different values not too dissimilar to the plants, and you use sunflower this time to activate zombies to eat the plants rather than the other way round. It’s once again tactically different to the main game as you have to think of ways to eat the plants and eventually, eat the brains you were trying to defend in the actual game. The 10 “I, Zombie” levels, similar to “Vasebreaker”, vary in difficulty and the last of the ten is “I, Zombie Endless”, which is exactly like “Vasebreaker Endless” but you’re trying to extend your streak in the “I, Zombie” games instead.

The “Survival” mode I mentioned earlier is a lot of fun. The idea is that you’re playing the main game and you have to survive a certain number of waves of zombies, depending on the difficulty. There are eleven different “Survival” games, the first five are the first five different battlefields and you have to survive five waves of zombie, the second five and the five different battlefields but much harder as you have to survive ten flags and the waves are much harder. The eleventh and final game is “Survival Endless”, which is like “Vasebreaker” and “I, Zombie” endless.

There are other little features, are more plants for you to unlock. After a few levels on “Adventure” mode, you’ll come across the only other known human in the game, the awesome Crazy Dave. Crazy Dave throughout “Adventure” mode gives you tips on the story and its progress. Later on he opens his own shop, and it’s here you get the opportunity to buy more plants if you wish. Crazy Dave is brilliant, he’s really funny and has some of the best lines in the game. After you finish “Adventure” mode you’ll have access to another feature, called the “Garden of Zen”. The purpose of this mode is simply to grow and sustain your plants, before selling them off for more coin to unlock even more features. You’ll also be able to grow something called the “Tree of Wisdom”, which gives you random bits of advice and passwords to unlock odd features like giving all zombies moustaches and the like.

Overall, “Plants vs Zombies” is a brilliant game. It’s hard to describe it without playing it. If I were to make a “50 games to play before you die list” this would be close to the top of it. It does much more than the generic tower defence game genre does, purely because it does it with so much charm and humour. I have yet to see one person dislike this game. It’s open to everyone from children to hardcore gamers to adults who don’t play many video games. It’s accessibility is universal and it’s just so much fun. If you’re still unsure whether or not to get this game give the free PC trial a go, you can find it by typing “free plants vs zombies” on Google. Popcap have it for free on their main site and you can get a real taster of what the game is about on there. Or on your Xbox 360 download a free trial on there. Popcap are really good for giving you free tasters on their games so give them a go. PvZ is one of the cutest, funniest and simplest games to come out in today’s hardcore gaming world. It makes a huge change and is more than worth your pennies.

Rating: ****1/2 stars

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