“There’s a Zombie on your lawn”
Those of you who have already completed Plants Vs Zombies in the past (or are just as fanatical as me with the XBLA version) will recognise the line quoted above from the end of game treat. The line is sung by a Marigold to a very catchy tune that will get stuck in your head for far longer than it should. Having a plant singing to you with Zombie backing singers may strike you as a bit strange, but this is what you should be expecting from a game that pits genetically modified vegetation against hordes of undead. This treat that you get for finishing the adventure mode pretty much sums up the game in general. Funny, incredibly well put together and highly addictive.
As a variation of the tower defence games, Plants Vs Zombies will have the player arranging defensive and offensive plants on a garden divided into a grid, in order to fight off an increasing variety of Zombies that want nothing more than to make their way across your garden, or roof, and into your house to eat your brains. Each of the 50 levels in adventure mode will see the player unlock new plants that will offer different abilities, such as Garlic that makes the zombies change which lane they approach on, or the defensive wal-nut. However, the player can only take a limited variety of plants into each level. It helps that on most levels the player can see which types of Zombies will be attacking and therefore choose the best plants to combat the threat. The Zombies begin quite simply with your basic shuffling Zombie, or a Zombie with a traffic cone on their head, offering them some more protection from your plants. But, before long, the player will be coming up against the likes of disco dancing Zombies, exploding “jack in the box” Zombies, and the near unbeatable massive Zombie with little Zombie on back combo.
Playing through all fifty levels may take a bit of time, but is well within the reach of anyone who has got a handle on tower defence games in general. But the fun doesn’t stop there. There are a myriad of extra modes, mini-games and other things to do, including playing through again with the handicap of Crazy Dave choosing some of your plants each level, just to earn some extra cash. Earning money is important because it allows you to visit Crazy Dave’s car and purchase items for other sections of the game, such as the Zen Garden.
The Zen Garden is like a little greenhouse simulator in that the player gets to grow and care for some of the plants found in the game. Different plants may require a different environment, such as the mushrooms requiring a night garden, and they are all available from crazy Dave. Most interesting is the tree of Wisdom, which will grow one foot for each dose of fertiliser. Upon reaching certain heights, the tree will impart wisdom to the player, usually in the form of good advice or maybe even a cheat for the game. Growing the tree is an expensive hobby, I have seen gamers reach the staggering height of 5000 feet before.
New to the XBLA version of the game is co-op and Vs modes. Co-op can be played in the adventure levels, which can get a little confusing and is probably more difficult than playing alone, or in specific co-op levels which work much better. The Vs mode offers something completely new in that one of the players gets to collect brains instead of sunlight and send forth zombies instead of arranging plants.
Given the ease of play with a mouse on the PC or touch screen on the iPhone, it would be understandable to worry about how well the game would be controlled using a controller on a console. Fortunately, given the grid like nature of the playing area, moving around and arranging your defences is relatively easy. Within the first couple of levels the player will have mastered the controls and will be dealing Zombie death at an alarming rate.
To look at, you can see that the game has been given the same amount of care that one would expect from a PopCap game. The colours are bright and the graphics are bold and simple. There is a morbid humour that runs throughout the game, which keeps the player smiling even when working through repetitive levels.
See, this is really the only problem that I have with the game. There are just not that many different environments in which to play and, as a result, gameplay can get a wee bit monotonous. PopCap try to rectify this by adding the different plants and Zombie types, but it can still drag a bit.
One more nice touch that I want to mention before I wrap this up is comparing achievements with people on your XBL friends list. Each player is given a house and, as they progress, this house is improved, with achievements earned being added in the form of lawn ornaments. Payers can then check out their “neighbourhood” and compare their house with those of their friends. Genius.
With a reasonably large adventure mode, numerous mini games and challenges, local multiplayer and the possibility of DLC in the future, Plants Vs Zombies on XBLA is certainly as good as, if not better than, the other versions of the game. Compared with other Arcade games, 1200 MSPoints may seem a bit pricey, but you do get an awful lot for your money. The game may be a bit repetitive and suffer from a lack of online multiplayer, but these are just little hiccups in an otherwise perfect arcade game.