Plants vs. Zombies originated as a PC game way back in 2009. Since then, the popular strategy title has garnered a large amount of acclaim and found several other gaming platforms to call home. Now the botanical struggle to defend your home from zombies has landed on the PlayStation Vita. This iteration of PvZ features all the same content from past iterations but everything has been appropriately translated to fit the Vita. So, is the game still as fresh as a bouquet of roses, or has it grown unbearably stale?
Essentially, Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense game that tasks you with strategically placing a wide array of belligerent plants on your lawn to fend off waves of zombie trespassers. All of the levels are grid-based and identical in size. The camera is fixed during gameplay and the grid takes up the entire screen. The zombies advance from right to left towards the entrance to your home. They march along five or six straight paths where you must place your plants in order to stop them in their tracks.
Like most strategy games, PvZ features an element of resource management. In order to plant plants you have to collect the required amount of sunshine. During daytime levels drops of sun will fall at random but you can also plant sunflowers that will absorb sunrays for you to provide a constant source of funds.
The touch controls are the most intuitive control option. If you've played Plants vs. Zombies on any other touchscreen device you should already have a good idea of what to expect. The more traditional control method found in the PlayStation 3 version, which utilizes the D-pad and face buttons, is an available option in the game’s settings for the small minority that prefer it. You can also take advantage of the Sixaxis motion controls by shaking the Vita to collect stray drops of sunshine.
The campaign is presented as a story, but the only character is a crazy hobo named Crazy Dave who offers you advice and sells you plants (but not the kind you're thinking of), as well as other items, out of the back of his van. The zombies also display a touch of personality, as they send you humorous letters warning of their imminent assaults. The progression of levels includes your standard lawn, your lawn at night, the backyard with a swimming pool (both in the day and at night), and finally the roof.
The campaign constantly throws curveballs your way that force you to adapt your strategy to the given situation. For example, in some levels have you choose your plant army in real time as a random selection of units scroll across the top of the screen. You also unlock more plants as you progress, which forces you to assess what works on the battlefield and what doesn’t in order to make the most of your limited space. The unlockable plant units range from long-ranged corn kernel catapults to jalapenos that can incinerate a whole row of zombies. Certain classes of plants are specifically tailored to certain environments - Mushrooms and other fungi, for example, perform best at night because they require less sunlight. Similarly, certain aquatic-based plants will fare best in the pool (duh). Moreover, new zombie classes are introduced regularly. They vary in appearance, attack style, and resilience, and range from a bobsled team of zombies to a disco-dancing zombie that raises more enemies from the grave as he tries to dance his way to victory.
My general strategy was to plant my line of sunflowers in the back, followed by projectile launchers, close range units, and finally a line of wall-nuts to shore up my defenses. The challenge level when utilising such a strategy is minimal. During the entire campaign I only lost about three times. Part of the reason for the lack of challenge is that your last line of defense in most levels is a bunch of lawnmowers that have the power to clear an entire line of zombies should they ever fully penetrate your defenses, essentially giving you a second chance. You can purchase similar equipment for your roof or pool, but the game is more satisfyingly challenging if you choose not to.
The visual presentation is virtually identical to past versions, although the 2D sprites do look particularly slick on the Vita’s 5-inch screen. The bright, colorful environments keep things interesting to look at, as do the intricate designs for the various plants and zombies, and the game runs without a hitch thanks to an impeccably smooth interface that makes navigating the menus effortless. The sound design isn't as prominent, featuring a soundtrack that consists of several catchy tunes and medleys that repeat frequently. The sound effects are at least distinct enough to tell you what’s happening on the battlefield even if your eyes are focused elsewhere, and you can always count on the tell-tale sound of zombies munching on your defenses to snap you back into attentiveness every time.
The Vita version of PvZ is available for download from the PlayStation store for $14.99. For that price you get a bounty of content to work through: the main story mode lasts between 5-6 hours on its own and is always available for another playthrough using your more advanced arsenal; there's a Zen Garden, where you can nurture your plants from seeds to maturity in what is quite a rewarding, addictive, and, yes, even relaxing experience; 20 unique mini-games to unlock, featuring short but sweet challenges such as wall-nut bowling, a horticultural take on Bejeweled, and battling an invisible zombie army; a Survival mode; two different types of Puzzle mode, one of which has you smashing vases that conceal either a zombie or a plant, while the other has you taking control of the zombies and setting them loose on a pre-set regiment of plants; and, finally, there's the potential to earn a platinum trophy, something usually only reserved for “full games” (except for Lumines). All in all, you get a lot for your money with PvZ, but you can also get it all elsewhere for less.
Pop Cap Games’ Plants vs. Zombies is still as great a game on the PlayStation Vita as it is on rival platforms. That being said, there's no particular reason to pick up this version over the others unless you've never played the game before, or you simply crave more content for your Vita. Nonetheless, whatever your reason for purchasing Plants vs. Zombies on the Vita, you're certain to find a charming, addictive and a sure-fire way to brighten your day.