Plants Vs. Zombies, the madly popular PopCap Studios tower defense game has finally invaded the DS. Originally a 2009 PC game, this title has since been successfully adapted for other platforms such as the iPhone and the Xbox 360, so an eventual expansion into the highly coveted DS market was very much inevitable. So, will PopCap do it again? Will Plants Vs. Zombies devour its way to the top of the charts once more, or has the franchise finally over-extended itself?
In case you have lived under a rock for the past two years and don’t know anything about the game, I’ll give you a brief summary of what Plants Vs. Zombies is all about. The basic premise is to protect the house where you’ve entrenched yourself from a horde of zombies that want to eat your brain. However, this nightmarish, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ scenario has a twist. Instead of the guns used to keep the undead at bay in other zombie-related games and movies, here your main line of defense is comprised of an assortment of mutant, semi-sentient plants. Also, instead of being a dark and gory game, Plants Vs. Zombies is a funny, light-hearted, and charming one.
You have to defend your home from all sides, since the zombies will open new fronts after failing to invade through your front lawn. Thus, you eventually end up having to fight them off from your backyard pool, your roof, and even at night under heavy fog. In order to stop them you have to plant several different types of vegetables that will fight for you, provided they’re paid for beforehand with a small fee in ‘sunlight’ that you can collect as it periodically falls to the lawn from the sky, or by planting ‘Sunflowers’ or ‘Sun-shrooms’ that produce it on their own.
The array of available vegetable weapons is not only enormous, but also very clever. There are straight-shooting plants such as the ‘Peashooter’ and the ‘Cactus’, lobbed shooting plants such as the ‘Cabbage-pult’ and the ‘Melon-pult’, one-off attackers such as the ‘Cherry-bombs’ or the ‘Squash’, barricade plants such as the ‘Wall-nut’ and the ‘Pumpkin’, and even non-attacking specialized plants such as the ‘Magnet-shroom’ (that removes metal armor from zombies) or the ‘Lilly Pad’ (that allows you to use terrestrial plants on the pool waters). These plants become progressively unlocked as you advance through the levels, increasing your strategic options with each new addition.
The army of undead that assails you is equally varied. Besides the basic unprotected slow-walking zombie creeper, there are several armor wearing zombies such as the ‘Bucket-head Zombie’ or the ‘Screen Door Zombie’, fast attacking zombies such as the ‘Pole-vaulting Zombie’ or the ‘Newspaper Zombie’, aquatic zombies such as the ‘Ducky-Tube Zombie’ or the “Dolphin Rider Zombie’, aerial raiders such as the ‘Bungee Zombie’ or the ‘Balloon Zombie’, and finally we have the uber-zombies such as the ‘Football Zombie’ and the ‘Gargantuar’.
The lawn, roof and pool level scenarios are always divided into five or six lanes. Most plants can only defend the lane where they are planted and incoming zombies usually also stick to the single lane through which they enter your property. This forces you to defend each lane individually and distribute your plants more or less evenly on the screen. Provided a zombie manages to reach the house, a final line of defense is activated in the form of a lawn mower that will wipe out all zombies on that track, giving you a last chance to rebuild your defenses on that lane. In further levels such as the roof and the pool you can use coins collected from downed zombies to purchase pool cleaners and roof cleaners to fill this role of ultimate one-shot defense.
Plants Vs. Zombies is extremely rich in game modes and has an enormous amount of replay value. Aside from the basic campaign, there are several mini-games, a survival modes, a zen garden mode, a puzzle mode, and a versus mode that will keep you entertained long after the campaign is complete. The mini-games include Zombotany (in which the zombies have plant heads and powers), Beghouled (a variant of the ‘Bejeweled’ game), Wall-nut Bowling (in which you have to stop the zombies by bowling them with wall-nuts that arrive on a conveyor belt), and many, many more. The Puzzle mode has you breaking vases to discover either zombies or plants and having to use the latter to counter the former. In the Survival modes you have to endure through massive waves of zombies across the different game scenarios. The Zen garden is a solarium where you pamper plants to collect coins from them. A Versus mode allows you to duel against a friend, with one controlling the plants and the other the zombies. Finally, there are plenty of new plant and mushroom types for sale in the trunk of your neighbor, which tweaks the gameplay experience and further increase the durability of the title.
The control scheme is one of the higher points of the game. The game is played using only the bottom screen and the stylus. Aside form displaying the timer that let’s you know how much longer you have to resist to pass the level, there really isn’t much worth seeing in the top screen. The good thing is that since the DS screen is much smaller, with everything closer by, and there is no button pressing involved in moving things around, you can actually react faster to changing in-game situations using the stylus and touch screen than using the mouse in the original PC version.
When it comes to the visual and sound departments, the game is somewhat of a letdown. For starters, the game, even in its PC iteration, never boasted much in the way of graphic detail or animation. On the DS, some of the finer details in the design of the plants is lost due to the smaller screen. Furthermore, when the screen fills up with zombies you notice the framerate start to slow down. The game fares a little better with regards to sound. Plants Vs. Zombies enjoys some very catchy jingles and a very popular ending song that was successfully transported onto the DS. The sound effects of the plants and zombies in combat are believable and in-sync with the feel-good mood of the game.
Overall, the game is still a fun package, but it’s starting to show signs of age. As mentioned, the game plays very well with the stylus and touch screen, but you can replicate this same experience for less money if you own an iPhone. By far, however, the main letdown is the lack of new plants or zombies to play with in the campaign. A classic victim of its own fame (since most people already know about the game from either the PC, Xbox 360, or iPhone versions), there really isn’t much of a reason to buy it for yet another platform. Plants Vs. Zombies is still a great game, probably the most enjoyable tower defense game out there, but it’s high time that the creators at PopCap either let it be or come up with a sequel.