Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Plot: Helped by Crazy Dave, the player must defend their house from a horde of zombies using home-grown plants.
Tower defence games have been a staple of video games for so long now. Usually reserved for mini-games in bigger products (Assassin’s Creed) or disposable mobile games, they are harmless fun. The idea is simple. Choose from your limited range of defence tools to hold off a horde of enemies and hope that your planned forces are enough to hold off the enemies. They are easy to pick up and simple to play.
Then why has Plants Vs Zombies become such a success? On paper, there is very little different from this than the standard tower defence product. You must lay out your flowers, with various skills, and gain enough ‘sunshine points’ to keep your plants growing in the lawn, holding off the zombies trying to get to you through the garden. There are a few different scenarios to take the battle to. The daytime assault gives way to a night-time setting (where the sunshine points are reduced, but you have access to mushrooms, who boast a whole new range of powers), to the back garden, where the garden pond, where your standard plants are unable to be grown, requires a change of strategy. Finally, the game ends on the rooftop of the house, where the slant of the roof blocks your line of fire to the last possible minute. Yes, this does give Plants Vs Zombie an interesting sense of constantly evolving and never quite being the same tower defence battle on a loop, but it hardly breaks the box. In fact, nothing Plants Vs Zombies does can be quite described as ground-breaking. However, this is still considered by a mass audience the greatest tower defence game, or at the very least the one with the most staying power. The best explanation for the staggering success of Plants Vs Zombies is the character bursting from it. The developers behind the game must have looked to the simple gaming model and decided to fill it with amusing characters, fun designs and imaginative bursts of creativity. On the plants side, you get the Peashooters, firing bullets at the approaching hordes, man-eating Venus Fly Traps, homegrown veg modified into catapults and water kelp that drag zombies into the deep of the lake. Every plant has their own skill and the fun is in trying to predict the best way to conquer the next level’s horde (praying that a zombie with a certain skill doesn’t sneak past your defences). But the fun is in the fact that the zombies are equal amounts of fun. Lumbering, slow and amusingly dim-witted, the bog-standard zombie is funny enough. But as the levels get harder, the zombies pick up an array of barmy tools to help them get into the house. Some use buckets or riot shields as armour. Others equip themselves in full American football gear to get through your plants. Then it just gets laugh-out loopy when zombies begin bringing dolphins, bungee jumpers and Zambonis to the fight. There is great fun in watching the game unfold and get wackier and wackier. Moments like this prove why Plants and Zombies is doing so well in the gaming market. It might pick a lazy gaming model, but it goes above and beyond with the decoration of that model.
Yet it is still a simple tower defence game. Perhaps the original game can be forgiven for this. Perhaps it didn’t realise it was going to end up feeling like something more than a fun distraction. But as it stands, there is a sinking feeling that this is a mobile game, that has snuck into the ranks of Nintendo DS’s bestsellers. It is painfully short. If you had an evening free, you can blast through this game in a few hours. The campaign recognises that the tower defence format can only take the player so far and allows itself to bow out early. What remains are different gaming modes, which allow themselves to become that generic tower defence game, guilt-free. There are achievements to be collected in repeating the campaign mode, yet Plants Vs Zombies never feels like something demanding a replaying. It is also an awkward mix between not being playable enough for a game console, yet not being casual enough for a mobile. It is slightly too simple to justify the energy required to power up your DS. But as a mobile game, to be played while waiting for a bus or TV commercials to end between shows, it is slightly too intense. It isn’t like Candy Crush, which can be paused on a heartbeat. The zombie hordes make a level of Plants Vs Zombies quite hectic, requiring your full concentration for a full twenty minutes. You need to absorbed and, to a point, this slightly defeats the object of a lazy mobile game.
Final Verdict: Plants Vs Zombie might be the greatest tower defence game out there, colourful and entertaining, but it is still trapped in the routine of the genre.