I, GAMER: I Walked With A Zombie

BY ADAM BONANNI There’s a special place in hell reserved for Popcap Games. They’ve been addicting droves of casual gamers with Bejeweled and Peggle for years, and now they’re back to pick up the rest with Plants vs. Zombies. Well played, Popcap. I have friends who need to be in Peggle rehab, and now we to deal with this. Plants vs. Zombies belongs to the tower defense genre. The objective behind these games is to build a series of auto-attacking defensive towers along a path that a horde of enemies traverses. If any enemies reach the end of the path, it’s game over, so the challenge is in spending your in-game funds wisely to construct strong enough towers to stave off the onslaught. Clearly not too much faith is placed in your second line of defense. Dozens of tower defense games are available for free online, thoroughly burning the collectiveInternet out on the genre, but what sets Plants vs. Zombies apart from the rest of the pack is a great sense of humor and a heap of unlockable features.

Plants vs. Zombies belongs to the hilariously bad title club, up there with Snakes on a Plane, but there’s no better way to describe the concept of a game than to do it with three little words in the title. A lone human is hiding in his house, and his only line of defense against the zombie infestation is to plant a bunch of combat-ready flowers and vegetables that will take out any intruders before the cross your lawn. The sheer number of plants that are included in the game, close to 50, makes for some pretty interesting gameplay, as it’s fun to experiment with different plants_vs_zombies_20090402114218025_640w.jpgcombinations.

If 50 different plants sounds like too much, be assured that you’ll need every one.  The types of zombies that you’ll encounter are extremely varied; there will be zombies with high defense, ones that tunnel underground, ones that fly above ground, so you’ll need everything at your disposal to take them down (there’s a Michael Jackson zombie doing Thriller!). Only six (expandable to eight) types of plants are allowed to be taken into battle, but they can be planted an infinite number of times as long as you have the in-game funds.  As the game progresses, some plants will become more useful than others, and certain ones will be purely situational. Before the game starts, the camera will quickly pan to the right to let you know what zombies you’ll be facing this round, but the problem with this is that it doesn’t show the lane where they are coming. It’s a bit frustrating when your strategy needs to revolve around one plant for one type of zombie that can wreak havoc on your defense if allowed to slip through. An approach more akin to rock-paper-scissors game balancing would have helped this, as the often-used one counter to one particular zombie approach feels a little unfair.

Plants Vs Zombies Music Video

Although the nature of tower defense games necessitate that the player be largely inactive, Plants vs. Zombies is slightly more action-oriented. The winding path that allows the towers to attack from the sidelines is absent, and your plants are in the direct path between the zombies and your house, meaning they are the new targets. The zombies will attack any plants that stand in their way, so often, plants will have to be quickly replaced to keep up the defense. Zombies don’t always play by the rules, and may rise in the middle of your lawn. If you don’t build smart, they may be able to sneak by your defense. For all it tries to do to keep the player in the game, extended sessions will cause boredom to set in. More so a fault with the genre, after staving off a horde of zombies only to instantly start off again to do the same thing, it becomes a bit tedious.

A quick remedy for this; instead of plowing through the main game, the best bet would be to sidetrack yourself on the huge mini-game collection. There are a great amount of unlockable mini-games that mix up the gameplay by putting a unique spin on the tower defense formula. The objective is still to protect the house from a zombie invasion most of the time, but some of the games will have you rolling some of the heavier plants at the zombies, trying to knock them over like bowling pins or squaring off against miniature versions of the zombies. My favorite has to beZombiquarium , where you keep zombies in a fish tank, and feed them brains so they don’t go belly-up. It PlantsVsZombies_1.pngperfectly sums up the bizarre, zany approach the developers took to everything in this game.

The visuals in Plants vs. Zombies are cute and colorful, but very simple. Everything in-game moves fluidly, but most animations are looped, that could transition better from one to another; a minor gripe. Also, for the love of god, it’s 2009, and Plants vs. Zombies is still relegated to a single low resolution that is blown up to fitfull-screen, with some ugly black bars on either side to maintain it’s aspect ratio. Blown up to full-screen , everything has a fuzz around its edges that makes it look less defined than it actually should. The design of the zombies, though, are real winners. Slack-jawed and appearing as threatening as a sleeping kitty, they really look deceptively charming, and it almost makes me want to give the game a 10/10 on the graphics just for that aforementioned Michael Jackson zombie doing Thriller. Seeing zombies in full football uniforms, charging head-on into your defense, pole-vaulters leaping over plants, and a zombie on a Zamboni creating a path for a zombie bobsled team just speaks wonders for the art direction in this game. If any game deserved a line of action figures made of its characters, the diversity of the cast of Plants vs. Zombies would be a shoe-in.

The sound in-game is handled pretty well, with some original piano arrangements providing the background atmosphere on each map, undoubtedly to parody the creepiness of an actual zombie invasion. Nothing super-memorable, but it fits well in-game The music picks up in intensity as more zombie hordes rush your lawn. Zombie voice acting, unfortunately, is used too sparingly. They’ll say things like “Brrrains” and “The zombies are coming…”, using an over-the-top raspy and brain-dead tone, but more of these lines really would have added to the hilarity of the creatures.

Unlike most zombie games, these are just too damn cute to produce any emotion akin to fear or adverseness. Truly, the developers failed on purpose.


Plants vs. Zombies is available for PC and Mac, and retails for $19.99 through Popcap’s website , or $9.99 through Steam. Hmm… Try the free demo here

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