I absolutely adore PopCap’s first Plants vs. Zombies title; it’s a slick, charmingly presented tower defence game like no other. In fact, when I first discovered it, I lost a weekend of my life to the game, letting my real-life plants wither away while my virtual ones fought all the zombies they could, so to speak. When PopCap announced that they were making a sequel, I was very excited; I couldn’t wait to see what zany plants and new ideas they would come up with.
And while it’s true that they have came up with plenty of new plants and some really great ideas, PvZ2 doesn’t have the same draw of the original, even if the staple charm is still there. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a good game, just that the sequel doesn’t quite manage to replicate the one-off quirkiness of its predecessor, even if the game does revolve around Crazy Dave and his travels through time in order to eat a delicious taco twice.
At its core, the gameplay is very much the same – you’ve got a rectangular grid where you can place various types of plants, which usually fire straight forward (left to right) in their lane at the oncoming zombies. Plants include a pea shooter, a corn-kernel thrower and a defensive wall-nut. These all cost sun, which can be collected by tapping icons as they drop from the sky, or by planting sunflowers, which will incrementally generate sun. It’s a simple system, but one that works to the game’s advantage extremely well.
What is good is that everything feels as though it has been one-upped from the original; the time-travelling settings are much better than a garden, a pool and a roof, allowing for some really unique zombies, while there’s a lot more content in terms of levels and new plants, as well as plant food and other power-ups, which make for more ways to fend off the zombies.
Oh, and it’s free. There are in-app purchases, of course, but PvZ2 features perhaps the best implementation of these I’ve seen; there’s absolutely no need for them unless you just want to cheat your way through the game.
Essentially, these purchases can buy you new plants, which you’re still able to collect by completing optional side levels, or upgrades, which again can be collected in side levels. You’ll need keys to unlock these levels, but these are found as you progress through the game and aren’t too much of a challenge to get.
The only real place that these purchases become intrusive is with the end-of-area grinding. Once you’ve completed a certain time period, you’ll need to collect X amount of stars or pay £2.99 to move on to the next set of levels. Stars are collected by replaying levels and completing challenges – such as only spending so much sun or not planting for a certain amount of time – and it all feels like a bit of a grind; these were the only moments that I felt as though PopCap were punishing me for not spending money.
Still, perhaps it’s more of a design trait than an encouragement for you to spend your money – PvZ2 is decidedly hardcore at points, and the world map combined with replaying levels to collect stars is something we saw in classic games, long before micro-transactions were ever thought of.
You could actually say that there’s an over-abundance of content in Plants vs. Zombies 2; PopCap has gone all-out for the sequel, with twenty or thirty levels in each section. These are followed by a challenge mode which pits you against hordes of zombies level after level, allowing you to choose new plants and power-ups in between, but letting one zombie through meaning game over.
Plenty to do, then, and plenty of variety with different levels offering different ways to play – some in which you have to place all of your plants before starting, some which give you a pre-set selection. And there are three time periods, with a fourth on the way soon. That’s a lot of content for ‘free’.
While the game may lack the bizarre allure of the first, the presentation in PvZ2 is much better than its predecessor. Each time period is distinct, with Egyptian, Swashbuckling and Wild Western zombies all having different traits and types. Graphically, it’s crisp, clean and extremely polished, with some brilliant animation in there too. Completely PopCap, and all the better for it.
So, Plants vs Zombies 2 is a success, and a perfect example of how a game can still feature micro-transactions without being tedious; it’s perfect for mobile devices, but the same couldn’t be said if it were on PC.