One nice thing about casual games, with fairly simple engines and small budgets, developers aren’t afraid to try new things. If the game works out, then great, and if it doesn’t, then the developer just tries something else. It’s not like with AAA titles where if the game bombs then it’s years of work and millions of dollars down the drain. That’s why casual games tend to be more creative than major releases, and why you sometimes get something odd and captivating, like Plants vs. Zombies.
In Plants vs. Zombies, you have to defend your house from zombie attacks, but instead of using typical zombie weapons like shotguns and chainsaws, you only have your garden plants available. Fortunately, your garden is a little different than the norm, and it sports strains like pea shooters, cherry bombs, and cabbage-pults. All of the plants require sun to grow, and that means you also have to plant sunflowers so that you can maintain a stream of income.
The campaign that comes with Plants vs. Zombie consists of 50 levels. In each level, the zombies attack from the street on the right side of the screen, and if they make it to your house on the left side, then they eat your brain and you have to start over. The playing field is made up of a grid, and you have to place your plants in the grid squares to set your defense. Most plants do damage to the zombies, but others have special purposes, like wall-nuts, which block zombies from progressing (until the zombies chew through them). The premise of the game might sound strange, but it’s a lot of fun to pelt zombies with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
There is a lot of variety to Plants vs. Zombies. There are 48 different plants and 26 different zombies, and you also have to deal with some environmental difficulties, like nighttime battles and the swimming pool in your backyard. The game exists firmly with tongue in cheek, and so all of the plants and zombies are funny. For example, the newspaper zombie shuffles along slowly until you destroy his newspaper, and then he races at you with a rage (because he was that close to finishing the sudoku). Other zombies include a Michael Jackson-esque dancing zombie, a zomboni driver, a pole-vaulting zombie, and, of course, Dr. Zomboss, who you’ll have to fight at the end.
Besides the campaign, Plants vs. Zombies also includes a bunch of mini-games and special modes to play through. Most of these games are pretty easy (as are the levels in the campaign), but there are also some “endless” games, where you get to keep playing until you’re overwhelmed, and these games are going to be tough for anybody. You can also repeat the campaign if you want. And each time you play it, it becomes more difficult.
If that wasn’t enough, you can also earn money while playing the game. Zombies sometimes drop coins when they’re killed, and you usually receive bonuses when you complete mini-games and levels. You can use the money in Crazy Dave’s shop to buy upgrades for your plants, and also to unlock special features, like plant pets for your Zen garden, and a tree of wisdom that hands out strategy tips and reveals Easter eggs.
Plants vs. Zombies is one of those addictive games where you always want to play just a little bit longer -- just to see what crazy thing might appear next, if for no other reason. Plus, with all of the extra games and modes, it should remain fun and amusing for a while, but not forever. I played Plants vs. Zombies for 15-20 hours over the Memorial Day weekend, and that was enough to tap me out. All of the game modes are a little bit similar, and eventually the repetition kicks in. But 15-20 hours of enjoyment is plenty for a game that you should be able to purchase for under $20, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.