There are those of us (me included) who have waited for the sequel to Plants vs Zombies for years, taking in the silence of Popcap in our stride, waiting patiently while sometimes sobbing silently into our pillows in the dead of the night. For all of us, the tagline of the sequel is apt. It’s about time!
For those oblivious to this rather fantastic game, a short introduction is in order. Plants vs Zombies is a simple, crisp and surprisingly deep tower defence experience, where the player is tasked to defend his lawn from hordes of zombies using a variety of plants that make, uh, “life” hell for zombies.
Instead of the standard format that utilises multiple paths and choke points, Plants vs Zombies has five horizontal lanes which must be defended from Zombies obsessed with brain with some fries on the side, using a host of damage dealing plants. If the zombies make it across the lawn to your house, in any one of the lanes, its game over. What makes the series special is the simplicity with which it baits you, and the depth and variety it offers to completely hook you in. The zombies grow in numbers through variation in endurance, damage dealing capacity and the ability to bust some sweet dance moves. And the plants at your disposal never fail to match up.
Simply put, if you haven’t played Plants vs Zombies, there is absolutely no reason you should not be playing Plants vs Zombies 2: It’s about Time. And did I mention that its free?
Yes, PvZ2 is a child of the new world, replete with the satanic influence of in-app purchases and pay-to-win strategies employed by game developers who spend more time practising the occult and dark arts of punching a hole into your wallet rather than good game design standards.
Which is what makes PvZ2 even more unique, and at times even baffling. But more on that later.
The core gameplay of the series hasn’t changed at all. Your neighbour, crazy Dave wants to go back in time to eat a taco again, and ends up overdoing it only to land you in ancient Egypt. Guess what, the battle between plants and zombies has been going on for centuries. Across the game, you visit different time periods, that include pirate seas and the wild west, defending your base from hordes of zombies.
The different settings are also a great way of getting creative with the Zombies. The Ra Zombie from Egypt, sucks in any sun that generates while its walking, the Pirate Captain Zombie sends his parrot to whisk away a plant of yours, and the Pianist Zombie sends all the other zombies on screen in a frenzied dance, making them move quicker. The plants are also a mix of the old favourites like the Potato Mine and Wall-Nut, with some cool new ones thrown in. My favourite is the Bonk Choy, which starts throwing a barrage of punches on any zombie that gets close enough.
What is different this time around is the structure of the overall game, and that’s a good thing. Popcap has built a very engaging progression on top of the core mechanics established in the first game. Outside of the main storyline, the player needs to earn stars to progress to the next world. These stars can be earned by either replaying the story levels with specific conditions, or by playing bonus levels which are mini-games in themselves.
The base levels teach you how to use the plants at your disposal, but the progression requires you to get creative in the face of constraints. So a level might require you not allow the zombies beyond a certain point, or limit the number of plants that are allowed, or the maximum number of plants that can be chewed up by zombies in a level. These objectives are smartly designed to push the player to understand and use the entire arsenal of plants at their disposal, rather than sticking with the few they are comfortable with.
The mini-games are a hoot as well. Ranging from levels that require you to protect specific plants, to levels that require you defend using only coconut cannons. These are great distractions from the standard gameplay.
The other major addition to the gameplay comes with more control given to the player over the proceedings. The first of these additions is plant seeds. The player has the option to use plant seeds or any of their plants to give a huge boost to their respective abilities for a few seconds. The Peashooter, for example, lets out barrage of peas decimating the opposition, and the Sunflower gives a huge burst of suns (that are required to plant more plants in a level), boosting your available resources. It’s great fun to try out plant seeds on different plants and figuring out how their boosts can be used to help you.
Adding to plant seeds are powers that allow the player to directly kill zombies with gesture based controls such as pinch and swipe. These powers can easily help the player navigate a tight spot, but are limited by their high cost.
Which is where the in-app monitization kicks in. The player can simplify the experience provided he or she is willing to dish out the cash for it. Apart from that, some of the plants and bonuses are available only through purchase. Overall, it’s a good system that does not charge you or slow you down as long as you are willing to master the game, but does provide the option of paying money to move ahead if you’re stuck. In my opinion, its IAP done refreshingly right. The game is free-to-win, but with compelling additional features and enhancements that come at a cost.
In fact, the only major criticism I can levy at the game is that it does not try to take any risks with the proven formula. One can take the ‘Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke’ argument, but given the pedigree of reinventing the wheel with the original, it does come as a bit of a disappointment.
Plants vs Zombies 2 is a great game that adds some very cool new features without taking too many risks with the core. With the lack of overly aggressive IAP and an idea that is certifiably awesome, there is absolutely no reason iOS users should not be sinking hours into Plants vs Zombies 2.