Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time
Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time has finally arrived. After a brief limited launch in Australia and New Zealand, PopCap and EA have unleashed the game worldwide, closing the four year gap opened by the original Plants vs. Zombies. The sequel has some enormous expectations to live up to. Its predecessor won dozens of awards and has been praised as one of the most original and creative games in recent years. How do you follow something like that? By adding more plants, more zombies, and more levels. Oh, and by introducing tons of in-app purchases!
The story behind Plants vs. Zombies 2 is largely focused on Crazy Dave, the speech-garbled, sauce pan on the head neighbor from the first game. You see, Dave ate a really good taco. It was so delicious he wanted to eat it again. He used his time machine to travel back in time, but things didn't go quite as planned. Instead of moving back a few minutes or hours, Dave pulled everyone to ancient Egypt. Since tacos won't be invented for several centuries, looks like he's got some work to do if he wants that second lunch.
Zombies are as prevalent in ancient Egypt as they are in a modern day backyard. Plants are just as plentiful as well, and they're eager dispatch some undead. Zombies of all types shamble in from the right side of the screen, each occupying one of five rows on the grid. Taking plants from your inventory and spending sunshine as currency, set offensive and defensive units in the soil and watch them do their thing. Each plant has its own ability, ranging from the basic pea shooter to the punch-happy Bonk Choy or the classic potato mine (SPUD-OW!). By populating your yard with a healthy array of plants, you can stave off the zombie hordes and live to fight another day.
The basic set-up of Plants vs. Zombies 2 is pretty much the same as Plants vs. Zombies. There are some key differences introduced in the sequel that make it stand apart from its predecessor, however. For starters, Plants vs. Zombies 2 takes place in three distinct areas: Ancient Egypt, Pirate Seas, and Wild West. Connecting the levels in each of these areas is an overworld map, complete with branching paths that are blocked by locked doors. You can clearly see where many plant upgrades and other events will occur, but there are some surprises in store as well.
Analysis: The defense gameplay of Plants vs. Zombies 2 has been tweaked in a few places. The basic mechanics are largely unchanged, but now you've got a few special abilities to help you out of a jam. Plant food provides a temporary boost for a single plant, allowing it to unleash a quick barrage of attacks to clear out zombies. There are also a handful of power-ups you can use, all of which break the mold of letting the plants do all the dirty work. The pinch power-up lets you squeeze zombies' heads to send them packing. The toss ability lets you pick up and throw zombies from the screen. The lightning power zaps whole groups of zombies at once, clearing out crowds in short order. Fun for a few seconds, perhaps, but their inclusion in a game like Plants vs. Zombies is baffling. Until you consider one other new gameplay feature, that is: in-app purchases.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the bane of mobile gaming enthusiasts around the world, now a front and center feature of a Plants vs. Zombies game: in-app purchases. A lot of lazy design decisions were made so the IAP model could be grafted onto Plants vs. Zombies 2. The special abilities, the plant food, the locked plants that can only be obtained by spending microtransaction money... All there for no reason other than to entice people into spending more money. Those features don't belong in a game like Plants vs. Zombies. Flicking foes with our fingers is pointless. If it belonged in the franchise, it would have been there from day one. The reason expensive, expendable power-ups and things like plant food exist in Plants vs. Zombies 2 is simple: they're there to push in-app purchases.
The sense of humor, the quirky plants, the dopey zombies with their pitiful ruses... all of that has remained mostly the same in Plants vs. Zombies 2. At least, they're the same on the surface. What Plants vs. Zombies 2 is missing is the underlying heart that made the first game an instant classic. The original Plants vs. Zombies defined itself by its own criteria. Every part of it was sculpted to fit with the rest of the game. No corners were cut, no external gaming trends were consulted, no committees of accountants and businessfolk were brought in to tweak things. Plants vs. Zombies was and still is sublime in its own self-contained perfection.
Plants vs. Zombies 2, on the other hand, is a victim of a strained attempt to be relevant, trendy, and monetarily successful. Its main goal isn't to create a new gaming experience that will make people laugh and dance and clap and yell. It's here to cash in on the Plants vs. Zombies name. The in-app purchases are the most tragic sign of that, but the other new features and the awkward story about Dave and his taco feel like they were copied and pasted from a list of things mobile games do in 2013. Plants vs. Zombies 2 doesn't create anything new, it just blends all the same ingredients together and layers a nice thick coating of brand recognition on top to make sure we'll pay attention to it.
To add a single scoop of fairness to the recipe, Plants vs. Zombies 2 isn't an awful game through and through. When you come from a formula as refined as that in the original release, you'd kinda have to phone the whole thing in in order to cause a complete train wreck. The fact of the matter is Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a sequel, said with all the derisive undertones one could mutter with that word. It looks and feels like the same game, but once you start playing you'll realize the soul of the experience has long since vacated the premises. Plants vs. Zombies 2 goes through the motions of a Plants vs. Zombies game, trimmed with features cut from other popular mobile games of today. But it can't reach anywhere near the heights Plants vs. Zombies so effortlessly reached, not while it's bogged down with in-app purchases and other pointless, IAP-hungry features. An entertaining game, yes, but it's no Plants vs. Zombies.
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the iPad 3. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.