Much Goofy Gardening Fun to Be Had in 'Plants vs. Zombies'
Legions of relentless, shambling zombies make great cannon fodder for a tower defense-style game, only in "Plants vs. Zombies," there is no cannon; rather, you can choose from nearly 50 vegetation-based defense systems -- pea shooters, cherry bombs, corncob missiles, etc. PopCap has thrown in plenty of variety in terms of weapons, enemies and settings to stave off the monotony that often strikes games of this sort.
Anyone whose home has been under attack from zombies knows all too well how incredibly annoying the problem can get -- way worse than termites or even a wasp nest. Luckily, strategic landscaping in the front yard can be an effective defense, at least in the cartoony world "Plants vs. Zombies" inhabits.
PopCap's game for PCs and Macs has been scaled down into an iPhone/iPod touch version, which loosely follows the tower defense game genre while adding in some new features to keep things interesting.
The story, as far as I can tell, is roughly the same as that of any George Ramero movie ever made: The dead are walking the Earth, and they want your brains. Get inside and do what it takes to repel them. However, instead of shotguns, shovels, machetes or any other remotely familiar zombie-dispatching utensil, you get to use flora. You position sunflowers, potato mines, cherry bombs, corn cob missiles, and 45 other defensive plants in your yard to repel endless hordes of walking dead.
Not the Typical Tower Game
"Plants vs. Zombies" differs from from a typical tower defense game (of which something like "StarDefense" is a good example) in that instead of a set path along which all the enemy drones travel on their way to attack your stronghold, the field is wide open. Your entire yard is up for grabs, and that yard is laid out more or less as a grid. Position your resources in any square in that grid, but be aware that should any zombie survive the peas and missiles and cherry bombs you're heaving its way and come within arm's reach of your vegetation, it will devour it and continue shambling toward your front door.
When I first saw that this game deals with a wide-open area rather than predetermined path of attack, I presumed my tormentors would be free to change directions and move around obstacles. But that's not the case -- these are mindless zombies, after all, and all they want is to get inside that house and eat that brain. All attackers (at least, all the zombies I've encountered so far), follow a straight horizontal pathway, and most of your defenses work that way too.
Another way "Plants vs. Zombies" puts its own spin on this type of game is in how resources are gathered. You don't get capital to make more plants by killing zombies; instead, you have to rely on naturally occurring sunlight as well as plants like sunflowers, which generate sunlight of their own (that's just the way sunflowers work in a world in which zombies are a fact of life, I guess). The more sunflowers you plant, the more income you'll get, but the less room you'll have for zombie-killing shrubbery.
Coins do come into play eventually, with which you can buy seeds for more exotic plants from a deranged neighbor.
In having you battle wave after wave of attackers, it's easy for a tower defense game to slip into monotony, and PopCap has done a good job of avoiding that trap. Lots of games like this simply allow you to upgrade an existing weapon -- same function, just make it shoot more powerful bullets, or something like that. In "PvZ," you can earn access to 49 possible vegetative weapons, of which you can pick only a handful at the beginning of each level.
The zombies are also presented with various shapes, sizes and abilities, and carrying various improvised armaments and tools. You'll be facing off with them in daytime and nighttime levels, in the yard, on the roof, in the pool and in the fog.
If you're using an original iPhone or a 3G, expect your thickest battles to lag just a little as you mow down row after row of undead. The reason those skirmishes seem to get so thick is that you're dealing with basically a grid of nine squares by five squares, and it can honestly feel cramped pretty fast.
There's something about tower defense games that makes them really satisfying -- something about laying traps, sitting back and watching scores of enemies disintegrate in the face of overwhelming force. "PvZ" hits the mark there and adds a few new twists to avoid becoming yet another version of "Rampart" with a new coat of paint.
It also ties in a lot more variety in terms of bad guys and weapon selection than I'm used to seeing with these sorts of games. The price is $2.99, but I think PopCap could have gotten away with charging a bit more.