I originally intended to write a casual-games-roundup review. I don’t know about you, but my time has moved past “precious” and reached a state of practical non-existence. That was my plan until I downloaded Plants vs. Zombies. Now if you tell my wife I claimed to have no time to play video games, she would probably laugh at you, and then punch me. Over the last few days, I have lost far too many hours of both sleep and productivity to this game.
Plants vs. Zombies is the latest release from PopCap Games. It’s an area-defense game where you’re protecting your house from the zombie horde by planting a variety of rather violent flora. The game is available for download for both Mac and PC directly from PopCap, and is also on Steam, for those so inclined. In addition to the main gameplay, there are a surprising number of mini-games, a couple of puzzle modes, and a “Zen Garden.” The game is deep, funny and highly replayable. I enjoyed it immensely.
Let’s start with the main game, Adventure mode. You have to protect your house. The zombies, being less than intelligent, walk down set lanes of your yard and, in time, your roof. You spend sunshine to set up your defenses. The zombies come in a variety of flavors, forcing you to adapt your strategy each level. Thankfully, you’re given a preview of what zombies to expect each level.
I love the humor in this game. From potato mines, which explode with a resounding “SPUDOW!” to the Zombie Bobsled Team which races down an ice lane laid out by the Zomboni, the game is full of clever touches. Something new is introduced in just about every level. The area-defense scheme is also mixed up every few levels with what I’ll call “events.” These range from Zombie Bowling to Whack-a-Zombie to setting up your defenses based on a themed conveyor belt of seeds. The main gameplay is fully engaging, but the events keep it from getting stale.
If I have a complaint about the game, it’s the difficulty. The difficulty curve ramps up very steadily, but I was never too concerned. A couple of close moments, a few lost levels because of poor preparation, but, overall, nothing to sweat about. I’m guessing that’s intentional. It’s not really a casual game if you’re retrying a level three or four times. Once I found a rhythm, it was rarely broken. Except for Gargantaur. Gargantaur will break just about any plans you think you might have.
Playing through the Adventure mode, you’ll unlock a few mini-games and a few puzzle modes. Completing Adventure mode unlocks a ridiculous number of mini-games, the rest of the puzzles, and a survival mode. The mini-games range from the good (the match-three Beghouled) to the bad (the frustrating Bobsled Bonanza) and the occasionally really weird (Zombiquarium??).
Puzzle mode has ten levels of two different options. The first is a vase breaking game where vases contain either plants or zombies. Success is finding the right mix of breaking vases versus planting seeds, especially when the seeds have a planting time limit. The other mode is one I enjoy quite a bit: Zombie Training. “Cardboard” plants are set up, and the player gets to unleash the zombies. I found it very satisfying.
Survival mode pits you against ever-increasing waves of zombies, and the Zen Garden lets you chill out, grow plants and make some dough. You’re definitely gonna want to pick up Speedy the Snail, though.
When I first saw Plants vs. Zombies on Steam, I skipped right past it. The title was so ludicrous, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. However, I stumbled onto the music video, saw the trailer, downloaded the demo, and was completely hooked. I can see playing this game quite a bit more, despite the fact that I’ve done almost everything there is to do. Full disclosure? I’ve been playing PvZ while writing this review. Definitely check it out.