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Plants vs. Zombies (PC) artwork

Plants vs. Zombies (PC) review


"The basics are fairly straightforward. Given a scant number of slots with which to load as many fruits and vegetables as you’ve collected to that point, you must strategically select which plants will counter the various kinds of zombies invading your lawn. However, sowing seeds requires sunlight, which can only be obtained periodically during daytime stages or through sun-producing plants. "



There once was a zombie named Blargh. Blargh was a simple zombie with no chance of succeeding in society. After graduating high school, he lived with his mom until he turned 25 whereupon she swiftly disowned him for freeloading. Sad and alone, the zombie bum Blargh took to drinking. One day, he staggered drunkenly into Mrs. Penniwinkle’s front yard, hoping to get an easy brain meal. Instead, he stepped on a rake and died.

This story may sound ridiculous, but it demonstrates exactly the goofy setting that Plants vs. Zombies provides. Indeed, a game with such a simple goal as “defend your house” needs witty and clever concepts to keep things fun an interesting.

This it does very well.

The basics are fairly straightforward. Given a scant number of slots with which to load as many fruits and vegetables as you’ve collected to that point, you must strategically select which plants will counter the various kinds of zombies invading your lawn. However, sowing seeds requires sunlight, which can only be obtained periodically during daytime stages or through sun-producing plants. Beginners only have one mode of play and a small number of plants to choose from, but as adventure mode progresses, new features become available that greatly expand the game’s playability. At the end of each stage, you’ll acquire a new plant with which to defend your lawn. As your arsenal increases, your task becomes both easier and more difficult at the same time. While the newer additions slay the undead more effectively, you’re limited to taking six per stage, at least until you upgrade the number of slots. But that costs money, which you can’t start hoarding until about halfway through the second set of levels.

What isn’t so straightforward is the infinite number of ways to play the game. Purely offensive strategies include those where you fill up half the screen with sunflowers and the rest with offensive plants like peashooters, leaving just enough open space for cherry bombs (literally – it’s a cherry… that explodes) and lane-clearing jalapenos. Alternatively, defensive players can fill up several columns with inexpensive shields like wall-nuts, balancing the lengthy recharge time by planting offensive units in other lanes until the shields are available again. But my favorites include a combination of the two. A column of wall-nuts with another of potato mines or zombie-eating Chompers behind makes a great defense against pole-vaulters that easily jump over your first line of defense. This grants enough time to continue planting sunflowers and more effective units like repeaters (peashooters that shoot two peas at once).

The strategies only multiply as new obstacles and zombies enter the mix. At first, you only need to fight zombies in your front yard, where the only things that can get in the way are the zombies themselves. But when night falls, sunlight no longer falls from the sky and graves litter your once pristine lawn. These graves not only prevent any new life from growing there, they serve as zombie spawning grounds, summoning new ones at the start of each wave. To rid your garden of these unholy abominations, you’ll need to fill one of your precious slots with the grave-buster. When the zombies decide to attack your backyard, your pool serves as a new gateway into your home. However, regular plants can’t survive in water, so you’ll need to place lily pads first. At night, thick fog obscures half the screen, forcing you to use an organic lantern to clear it if your vision is that important to you.

With the addition of enemies like balloon zombies that can float over your carefully cultivated garden, you’ll need to consider your selections all the more. Only needle-throwing plants like cacti and cat tails can shoot down balloons, but the choice isn’t always so obvious when you consider the facts that while both use up an extra space, upgraded lily pads lose their carrier function but gain the ability to shoot anywhere. Perhaps you’d be better off using the Blover, the clover that acts like a fan, dispelling both balloons and fog. The downside? It’s instant-use and only keeps the fog at bay for a few seconds. Decisions are never easy.

Beat adventure mode once and even more doors open to you. New mini games become available as opposed to the three unlocked earlier. With twenty different options, it’s hard to get bored, especially when many of these games have amusing titles or concepts. The game Beghouled, for example, is a spin off PopCap’s earlier Arcade release Bejeweled only instead of matching jewels you match plants. But there’s a catch: instead of a time limit, you must deal with waves of invading zombies that quickly become infinite and unstoppable. For the more laidback types, there’s Zombie Aquarium, which, as the name suggests, plays like Aquarium only with scuba zombies and brains instead of fishies and pellets. Those who enjoy a challenge will find Bobsled Bananza and Pogo Party a real head thumper. In the former, you’re faced with almost nothing but hordes of Zombonis – zombies riding zambonis that not only flatten your plants but also leave sheets of ice behind them, which four-man zombie bobsled teams slide across with great speed. The Pogo Party mini game takes place on the roof where flower pots are needed to grow regular plants. Battling pogo zombies that hop over almost any plant in their path, you’ll need to think quickly in order to counter them before they eat your brain.

My favorite unlockable extras include the I, Zombie Endless puzzle mode in which you actually get to play as a zombie eating animated cardboard cutouts of plants (the merchant Crazy Dave doesn’t want any real plants getting hurt!). To win, you must use your small allotment of sun to purchase the best zombies for taking out each row of plants (and reaching the tasty brain at the end of each lane). Eating sunflowers naturally provides more sun, but should you run out, you’ll lose.

By far the most fun I’ve had with Plants vs. Zombies comes with Survival Endless mode. Set during the daytime pool grid, your task is simply to survive as many zombie waves as possible. While it may feel a lot like adventure mode, the challenge comes in the form of endurance. You may have the option to select new plants every time you defeat a wave, but that only makes things trickier because in accounting for the different zombie types that will appear on the field, you might not have all your preferred options available. Furthermore, the price for upgrading plants increases by 50 sun every time you wish to do so, forcing you to play more conservatively. But, in a mode where immensely powerful Gargantuars can appear in just the third stage, playing conservatively isn’t always an option. After all, when a giant zombie can survive two explosions, smash all plants in front of them with a single blow and penetrate your defenses by lobbing pesky imps into your ranks, you really can’t afford to play it safe.

Yet, that’s just the thing about Plants vs. Zombies. It offers something for everyone. I’ve withstood 26 flags of Survival Endless and still find it challenging and unique each time. It’s especially good for testing out new strategies, such as replacing gatling peas (upgraded repeaters) with winter melons (heavy-damaging catapults that freeze all enemies within range). Or removing a few sunflowers for devastating cob cannons that act like stationary missile launchers. Those who want a break from all the action can tend their Zen Garden, maturing plants to turn a profit. Perhaps you’ll just browse the almanac for laughs as you read the witty entries for both plants and zombies. Maybe you’re feeling nostalgic and want to run through adventure again but this time without the tutorial and with an added handicap where Dave chooses three of your plants for you. But, whatever you choose to do with it, I guarantee that you’ll find some way to enjoy it.

Rating: 9/10

wolfqueen001's avatar
Community review by wolfqueen001 (February 28, 2010)

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zippdementia posted March 04, 2010:

This is very colourful, exuberant review. I don't see anything particularly wrong with it outside of a few small spelling and grammar errors, only one of which is blatant... except that I can't find it anymore. Huh.

If there were a couple criticism I could make, they would look something like this...

Your introduction seems to hint at some form of story that's included in this game, yet I can't tell from the review whether this is true or not. Did you take this story from the game or did you write it yourself as a clever "in" to talking about the game? That could be a little bit clearer, especially as this could be a good selling point for the game as it's quite funny.

I don't mind the strategy guide format of the review (AKA explaining the various strategies that could make up a sample game of Plants Vs Zombies) but what starts off as a strong and engaging exploration of different options for handling zombies becomes somewhat stilted at the end, falling into a series of lists about the various mini-games and items that loses some of its appeal.
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wolfqueen001 posted March 04, 2010:

Heh. Thanks. Wasn't too sure how it'd come off, honestly. I know I wasn't satisfied with it after writing it for whatever reason, but that's since been settled after receiving rather positive feedback from other people.

Anyway, that little intro blurb was something I just made up to illustrate the game's utter goofiness. It's not part of the game's story at all. In fact, the game doesn't really have a story except for "Zombies are attacking your house. Stop them," but what it does have is just sheer cleverness that'll make you laugh if you find that kind of witty humor amusing. Examples would be at the end of levels where the zombies snd you silly letters trying to persuade you to leave your house or that they're done attacking. Also the almanac has brief descriptions of zombies and plants outside of the basic information (i.e. health, special abilities, etc), some of which are hilarious.

Indeed, the goofy aspect is something I'd badly wanted to illustrate with the review, but for whatever reason, actually writing it never manifested itself that way. I think that's what partly led to my dissatisfaction with it at first. That and the fact that I really had to rush it toward the end, hence the reason for your other complaint.

In any case, the confusion about story was actually pointed out to me the day after I wrote it, and so remained a concern despite "fixing" it. I thought I'd fixed it so that it sounds like the game is just goofy for concept rather than an actual plot, but I admit that "fixing" merely just meant removing the word "writing" from the sentence that reads something like "A game needs witty writing and clever concepts to keep it fun and interesting." (Strike indicating omoission). If it's still unclear, however, maybe I can do something else for that. I dunno. I did explain in the following paragraph after the intro, though, that that story wasn't part of the game but merely something representing the game's sense of humor.

As for the "stiltedness" at the end, I'm going to attribute that to finishing it off at 3 in the morning the night I wrote it. Really at that point, I'd just wanted to conclude it, and I'd felt kind of sad that I didn't mention all the other cool features of the game that keeps it fun and interesting. but, I also know I have relevancy issues where I tend to talk about the game too much in a review, so maybe I'll look at that last paragraph or two (I think that's what you're referring to) and see what I can do with it.

I'm glad you liked it anyhow.

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