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Plants vs. Zombies takes the familiar desktop tower-defense formula—defensive towers line a path and shoot at endless waves of mindless automatons—and turns it on its side... in your backyard. In typical tower-defense games, you manage one path (and one set of baddies at a time). In Plants vs. Zombies, you have to manage five or six lanes and you have to plant your botanical towers in the same lanes the undead baddies walk.
The game starts simply; you have a few lanes to manage and one or two types of zombies. The number of lanes you have to manage and the number of plants you have at your disposal increases quickly, although the difficulty ramps up slowly over the first several hours of play. You’ll eventually unlock about 50 different plants, each with a different function. Some will form the backbone of your sun economy (sun is the currency you exchange for each plant you place), some are purely offensive, some are purely defensive, and some fill various support roles.
To keep you in check, new zombies are continually introduced. Each different zombie type has new (frequently hilarious) powers, ranging from simple helmets and screen-door shields that let the undead absorb more damage, to Pogo-Stick and bungee zombies that can leap over your defense. Each type of zombie has multiple plant counters; for example, the balloon zombie, who floats happily over your defenses, can be countered by balloon-popping cacti as well as by the Blover, which generates a mighty wind that blows away flying zombies.
At the beginning of each level, before you select the plants you’ll use, you’re presented with a preview of the attacking zombies. With that knowledge, you can tailor your arsenal to counter the attacking zombies’ special abilities. The game’s 50 levels are set in a variety of environments (all around your suburban homestead, natch), including the front yard, the backyard, and nighttime scenarios. With different environmental challenges in every area and dozens of different zombies to counter, no one strategy will work in every level. Unlike many other tower-defense games, during the 20 or so hours that you play Plants vs. Zombies, you’ll constantly find yourself adjusting your basic strategy to utilize new types of plants—or even trying something entirely new.
Along with the 50 levels of Adventure mode, you’ll unlock another 30 or so mini-games, challenges, and survival boards. By completing these challenges, you can earn cash to spend on upgrades to your plants, additional seed slots, and other powerups. Eventually, you’ll also unlock the Zen Garden, a plant farm where you can grow seedlings to full-size plants. Keep the plants watered and fed and they’ll generate a ton of cash for you.
Plants vs. Zombies brings something new and very fun to the tower-defense genre, but it takes a long time for the difficulty to ramp up enough to challenge aficionados of the genre. That’s our sole complaint with the game, however. It’s a perfect pick-up-and-play lunch break diversion, and definitely worth its $20 price.
Crazy-awesome character design; hours of fun; big laughs.
Takes a while to become challenging.