Plants vs. Zombies Reader Review
Okay so the old paradigm of "zombies = more awesome" has been hammered to death recently and my final exhibit on the XBLA table tonight is a game featuring these undead icons of todays culture, I give you, Plants Vs Zombies.
It's always good to see that in some examples, zombies can be put to good use as the main pillar of a game (i.e the Left 4 Dead franchise) rather than be abused like those half dead mules you see on the adverts for the Donkey Trust (i.e Call of duty: World at War and Back Ops) and the following game is a prime example that zombie games can not only achieve cult status within the gaming community but also that Zombies can be fun! Granted not "lets take little Timmy down to the zombie playpen" kinda of fun but you'll see what I mean...
The main objective behind PvZ is straight forward enough, stop the zombies from eating your brains, you achieve this by using your own garden as the chosen battlefield and whilst my own personal weapon of choice would involve a 12-gauge, a duffel bag filled with shotgun shells and an enevitable trip to the nearest mall, the main character in PvZ has chosen his or her plant collection, fighting the undead with their botanical skills.
The game is your basic tower defence game where you plant Sunflowers to gather Sun, the main resouce, and build (...or, should that be plant? anyway!) defensive structures such as the Wall-nut and it's eventual upgarade, the Tall-Nut, which acts like defensive walls and the Squash, which, unsurprisingly, squashes zombies that get too close. I told you this was going to be straight forward.
And whilst building walls will keep the brain-munching badguys out for a while, they will eventually break through so you have the option to build weapons of botanical havok such as your basic Peashooter, which fires a single, low power pea at the oncoming zombie, to something altogether death-reigning like the mighty Cob Cannon, which obliterates a nine-square block of (hopefully) zombie filled garden. Should the zombies shamble their way through all of you defences however, you have your trusty Lawnmowers as you very last line of defence, though these are a single use item.
As you progress through PvZ's "story" mode, you unlock a new plant every level or so, this is usually an indication that you are going to be faced with a new type of zombie that can only be defeated (or at least weakened) with this new plant. such as the level where you unlock the Cactus which "Shoots down Balloon Zombies" now, if your anything like me, upon reading this description (if you haven't already played the game) you may be thinking "Balloon-Zombies?!?" that is unless of course you have ever managed to tie several helium balloons to a member of the walking dead and if you have you really should post that on Youtube and e-mail me the link! But I'm getting off the point...ZOMBIES!
The zombies come in some increasingly unusual flavours, such as the aforementioned Balloon Zombie, which will float above all of your defences to get to those tasty tasty brains of yours...and we don't want that now do we? You also encounter such enemies as the Bucket Zombie, which has additional health and the Trash Can Zombie, which is essentially the same as the Bucket Zombie. So far it's fairly simple, right? WRONG! before you know it you are faced with Pole-vault Zombies which run, George A. Romero's Land of The Dead style towards your defences and jump over the first line of defense (including Wall Nuts, but not Tall Nuts, but I'm getting distracted again) then you have the Football Zombies, which not only have increased health but increased speed.
The game progresses in this manner until you have uncovered such treasures as the Jack-In-The-Box Zombie which explodes taking out a nine-square grid of tiles with it if not killed...again...quickly, the Bob-Sled zombies which...well, is a bob-sled with three zombies in it, thats about it, to the Bungee Zombies which, on the later levels, mark several of your plants at random and bungee in to steal them!
You also have to add in the fact that each level in the story mode brings it's own issues depending on where the level is set. Of the three areas you play in, the Front yard is the easiest, being just a large area of empty grass, however when night falls, it means your Sunflowers won't generate any sun, but never fear, you have the mighty Sun-Shroom and a choice of nocturnal mushroom-based plants to fight off the insomniac undead.
You then arrive at the Back Yard, where you are presented with a 6 lane garden, two lanes unfortunately are taken up by your swimming pool which calls for the Lilly Pads in order to place plants on the water and the Tangleweed Plant which takes care of underwater zombies.
The Roof is by far the most difficult, where you not only have to place Plant Pots first then plant you plants (not everyone has soil on their roofs like me!) but you need to ensure that, as you are planting at an angle because of the roof tiles that your weapons of botanical destruction can actually hit the zombies.
Upon reflection of PvZ it does seem like an ever-increasingly difficult game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, where you simply have to take the plants that are effective against the incoming horde.
Through this whole brightly coloured zombie nightmare, you are greated several times by you neighbour (and my personal pick for Video Game Personality of the Year) Crazy Dave, but his friends just call him Crazy Dave, who offers not only advice and the odd tutorial but also a shop...in a manner of speaking.
Once you have rescued Crazy Daves car keys from the zombies, he can sell you stuff from Crazy Daves Twiddydinkies, these upgrades include (but are not limited to) extra seed packet slots so you can carry more plants into battle, upgrades to exsisting plants, such as the Gatling Pea, which transforms your Repeater (your upgraded Peashooter) into a military-style plant that shoots 4 peas at once and comes complete with a gatling gun for a nose and a military helmet, or the Twin Sunflower, which, as the name implies, doubles the sun output of one Sunflower plant by genetically grafting a second sunflower head onto it.
The XBox Live Arcade version of this web based title also sees the inclusion of Mini Games such as Vasebreaker, where you are given a grid of vases and each one you click will either contain a zombie or a seed packet and the objective is to break all of the vases and have defeated all the zombies on screen. There is also I, Zombie, which sees you in the position of the zombies fighting a randomly generated three, four or five column grid of cardboard plants (set up by Crazy Dave) where you have to get past all them to eat the brains behind them.
Also included in the XBox Live Arcade version is the versus mode which I found to be fun, infuriating and pointless all at the same time, the basic mechanic goes like this, you decide who is going to play as the Zombies, that person wins...thats it. The zombies are unfortunately massively over powered and their basic zombies cost next to nothing to create which stacks the odds in favour of the controller of the undead. This is a mode that me and my girlfriend both played for a couple of hours then decided it was best not to play it anymore as the outcome is almost always the same. Team Brain-Munch almost always wins.
Plants V Zombies is one of the very few games that I have completely rinsed on PC first, then bought on XBox 360 and done exactly the same thing.
PvZ is a fun game that, if you enjoy tower defence games, will keep you happy for a good while and well worth checking out at least once, even if you play the free demo either on PopCap or the XBL Arcade.
And thus concludes my look at the XBox Live Arcade and it's current gems of awesomeness, there are undoubtadly many other games that I have not played that would be worty of a mention (LIMBO springs to mind currently) but these are three titles that have stood out so far.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the ride!