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Dennis Scimeca

Plants vs. Zombies Review

Posted Fri 9th Jul 2010 11:03pm by Dennis Scimeca
Plants vs. Zombies in 10 seconds

Plants vs. Zombies may sound preposterous, but it is one of the best iPhone games on the market for its deceptive simplicity, coherent design, and tremendous character. 

Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense game. The zombies, who live in a graveyard across the street, are attempting to break into your house and eat your brains. Because the Poltergeist manuever is ostensibly not to your liking (i.e., moving away from the nasties attempting to kill you), it is up to your gardening skills to protect your front and back yards, and the roof.
Unless one owns an iPhone or an iPad, they may never hear about this game. While there is a PC version, it's the Apple device versions that have attracted the most attention and acclaim, because Plants vs. Zombies showcases how both of these devices can be excellent gaming platforms if utilized properly. This is a very quirky game, with an amazing amount of character. Offensive plants scowl, defensive plants either look bewildered or menacing, and the different varieties of zombies will have at least one type that makes you crack up laughing.

Sunlight is the currency by which you purchase your plants. Sunlight icons will fall from the sky in daytime levels, and can be supplemented with Sunflowers which will charge up and spit out additional sunlight. At night, SunShrooms provde the sunlight resource.

The number of plants you wind up with by the end of Plants vs. Zombies is tremendous, and this forms the lion's share of the game's lasting appeal. There are a multiude of various, successful plant combinations to defend the left side of the screen which the shambling zombies are attemtping to reach. Pea Shooters spit projectiles in a straight line, and can be upgraded into Gatling versions, and also come in a Snow Pea variety which temporarily freezes zombies, and a Threepeater which shoots in three directions. Cherry Bombs and Jalapenos explode and kill zombies outright. Potato mines and Squash serve as defense mechanisms. Wall-nuts and Tall-nuts can stave off a zombie attack allowing your offensive plants to take them down, or buy time for you to plant the necessary defenses. There are slots for 44 plants in total, 40 of which you will earn automatically as you progress through the game. The other 4 have to be purchased with coins that you earn for killing particularly tough zombies, or which are generated by Marigold plants.
There are 26 varieties of zombie, all of which present different levels of threat that you must account for with the plants you have available. Regular zombies slowly shuffle from right to left, Conehead, Buckethead, Screen Door, and Football zombies have protection from attacks. Pole-vaulting zombies can leap over obstacles like Wall-nuts and potato mines. The different types of zombies get more hilarious, and dangerous, as the game progresses. Bungee Zombies appear from the sky and steal your plants, Zomboni zombies drive a Zamboni over your plants, crushing them, and leaving a trail of ice behind it, and Dancing Zombies bear a striking resemblance to a certain deceased pop star and summon dancers from the ground around them.
The game is split into three main levels broken up into stages. The front yard is the easiest to plant on. The backyard's two middle rows are a swimming pool which first must be planted with lily pads before any ground-based plants may be used in that space, or special water-only plants must be used. This can lead to some interesting choices in which plants a player selects for a level to balance the need to defend both ground and water spaces. The roof is the final level, and requires a planter on each roof tile before any plants may be used on that tile. Roof levels start you off with fewer and fewer planters as the stages progress, requiring some efficient resource management to earn enough sunlight to construct a viable defense.
At the beginning of each stage, you are shown a brief view of all the different types of zombies looking to attack you during that stage, to aid in your plant selection. The number of slots you have available will increase due to stage completion rewards for a little while, and additional slots have to be purchased from Crazy Dave, your neighbor. Crazy Dave is one of the many quirks in this game, speaking in a garbled mish-mash which requires translation in text. He is emblematic of the playful spirit that lies behind this entire title, which manages to be an extremely challenging game as well if you take some risks with your plant selections. 
When the main story campaign is finished, you can choose from a selection of challenges that replicate some of the occasional, alternative-play levels of the campaign including bowling Wall-nuts to kill zombies, being fed a random selection of plants on a upward-moving conveyor rather than selecting your plants for the stage, and several Whack-A-Mole-type levels.
The entire game is controlled through the touch-screen, and while my large fingers aren't quite as nimble as they could be, I rarely encountered any problems with getting plants planted in the spaces I wanted them, and I never fumbled for controls.

Plants vs. Zombies proves how superb the iPhone screen really is. The colors are extremely bright and vibrant. The cartoonish art is cute without being so silly. You will be amazed at some of the tiny details like facial expressions on plants, and lolling tongues and individual, stray hairs on zombies' heads. When an explosive plant is used, zombies will turn burned black with saucer-wide eyes of surprise before collapsing into a pile of ash. It is an amazingly-smooth animation that belies just how much this game will answer any questions as to whether the iPhone screen is of high-enough quality to support superior graphics.

The playful nature of the game is carried through in the audio design, from Crazy Dave's garbled voice to the grunt of zombies, their announcement at the beginning of each stage that they "are coming," and their requests for brains. During the bowling levels, the sounds of the zombies being knocked over might actually be the sounds of bowling balls hitting pins.

The music scoring is one of my few qualms with the game, as each of the three stages has its own background music which doesn't change throughout the stage, save for the occasional alternative-play levels. The music grated on me after a while.

Closing Comments
Plants vs. Zombies isn't a game I only play in the car, or on the subway, or in a plane when I need a portable device to game - I choose to play this at home on the couch in front of my plasma television which has all three current-gen consoles hooked up with a surround sound system. Plants vs. Zombies is that good, and considering it only costs $2.99, I wish that every video game I bought provided this level of value. If you own an iPhone or iPad, this is one of the games which simply must be in your collection, if for nothing else than to set the bar that every other game you purchase should be reaching for.

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Jim Hargreaves
0 GK Points
Date Posted 10/07/2010 8:57am
Great review, loved the closing comments. I'm still hoping they release this for the PlayStation Network.
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The Lowdown
Single Player:
Casual Gamer:
Total Score:
/ 10
One of the best games for iPhone you can buy
Game Kudos Wish List
  • More variety of music
  • Another level or two
Game Support
  • 1-player
Review Facts
  • 3GS iPhone

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