HIGH Assembling an impenetrable double row of zombie-shredding Gatling Peas.
LOW Seeing a Balloon Zombie overhead and realizing I lack a countermeasure.
WTF Where did that final boss come from?
Now that Plants vs. Zombies has hit consoles and I've had a chance to play it, I now think it's pretty safe to say that everyone in the free world has given it a spin and enjoyed it at one time or another.
Yes, it was me. I was the last holdout.
After finally sitting down with it, it's not hard to see why PopCap's creation was so wildly successful—the art style is bright and appealing, the play formula only takes moments to grasp, and it's easy to lose hours when the plan is for a few quick rounds. It's clever and cute, and it's so elegant that anyone can jump in and feel like a pro in no time flat.
In essence, Plants vs. Zombies is a simplified Tower Defense game, but rather than having complicated maps for the player to deal with, enemy forces travel along a set number of horizontal rows from right to left. Staving off the undead is done by planting a wide variety of combat-ready vegetation—things like Peashooters, Cabbage-Pults, Tangle Kelp and Hypno-Shrooms. The action starts slow to make sure that it's not overwhelming, but new plants are unlocked in rapid-fire succession and several twists are introduced down the line to ensure that the action never feels stale.
Although the zombie-killing always maintains its pleasantly harmless visual style, there's enough depth and variety in the plant units to interest even "hardcore" players. Beneath the cheery smiles and the swaying leaves, the varied abilities of the flora enable anyone to develop several different strategies depending on preference and types of enemies encountered. Personally, my go-to was a defensive row of Tall-Nuts backed by Gatling Peas, but that's just one possible way to go of many.
The main campaign features fifty levels and has a difficulty curve that seems almost perfect, although there were a few moments of irritation. Some examples? The fog in later stages was certainly a little unwelcome and the Dolphin Zombies are real jerks. Even so, there's never a real choke point or obvious difficulty spike.
Once through the main mode, Plants vs. Zombies offers a surprising amount of peripheral content to give players plenty of reasons to keep planting long after credits have rolled; things like co-op and versus modes (sorry, no online—local only) in addition to a stunning array of brilliant minigames. I never would have expected a zombie aquarium or an homage to Bejweled, but both of those things are here, and more.
While I can't say that Plants vs. Zombies gripped me with the same sort of feverish addiction that I've seen so many friends and acquaintances suffer from, I enjoyed my time with it and would recommend it to anyone without hesitation... that is, if I ever find anyone who has yet to play it. Regardless, PopCap should be congratulated on taking on the Tower Defense genre and transforming it into something so immaculately constructed. There's no denying the superb level of polish put into every aspect of the experience, and the wealth of supporting content gives it a sturdy pair of leafy, green legs. Any way you slice it, Plants vs. Zombies is a win.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.2 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains animated blood and cartoon violence. Despite the fact that the game is basically about killing hordes of zombies, everything is so bright, colorful, and cheery that I have a hard time imagining anyone finding it offensive or worthy of caution. Things on-screen never get more intense than having a cartoony zombie get smacked in the face with peas, butter, or lobbed melons. Totally harmless, if you ask me.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You won't have any problems. There is no spoken dialogue in the game, and everything necessary to play successfully is presented visually on-screen. It's totally accessible.