So, here’s a dirty secret: I had not played Plants vs. Zombies until very recently, when Bill couldn’t stop talking my ear off about it.  But, surprise surprise, it is in fact a PopCap game and extremely good!  I just completed Adventure Mode plus a few of the “survival” levels (which let you use some of the stuff you acquire late in the game to good effect), and I wanted to talk about my impressions.  For reference, I love love love Peggle, I enjoy Bejeweled but not overmuch, and I haven’t played other PopCap games.  I also have historically not enjoyed Tower Defense games, probably because they tend to (a) lack polish, and (b) take a bit to get into.

PvZ immediately solves both of these problems because it is amazingly polished (like any PopCap game) and it doesn’t waste anytime getting you into the meat of the game.  PvZ has two major components that I want to talk about – its sunflower system and its progression of content.  The sunflower is the game’s mana system, in that your ability to construct “towers” is limited by your sun currency, and that currency is generated by sunflowers.  I think this is both a beautiful design feature, and also a minor design flaw.  Because the space you build in (your lawn) is limited, the arrangement and number of sunflowers has strategic value, and I like that.  In addition, because sunflowers produce sun at an approximate rate, that means you build as you play, which is an excellent way to keep the game moving and energetic, and I love that about it.  On the other hand, it’s a flaw because I have found every one of my games starts the same way – I make a bunch of sunflowers while defending with temporary defensive structures.  This repetitiveness wore me down and is a major contributor to why I am not planning on playing much more past the “campaign track.”  (It also has another effect which I’ll talk about below.)  Sunflowers are also super adorable, so major plus there too.

The progression of content in PvZ is great – you receive new plants as you progress (they are not “money-limited,” although a few “post-game content” items are).  I found this kept me interested, and the inclusion of levels that leverage the strengths of the new plant immediately after you receive them as kind of a running tutorial is an excellent system for teaching.  I did find, however, that due to the build order constraints sunflowers place on me, I ended up using a lot of the same plants over and over again.  Once again, the repetitiveness is frustrating and I didn’t feel the variation in level makeup (pool vs. fog vs. roof etc.) was sufficient to make me feel like I was diversifying.

So, overall, it’s clearly an excellent game, and I should have played it sooner!  PopCap never fails to deliver an excellent package, and the very fact that I have this much to say about it is a testament to the game’s subtle depth and overall fun factor.  I recommend it, probably over other Tower Defense games (unless that’s your cup of tea specifically), but not over other casual games generally.

Overall: A-
Polish, Flavor, etc.: A
Strategy: B-
Strategy for a Casual Game: A-

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