Originally Published: 8 September 2010
For me, part of the fun of watching a show like Ground Force is to think “I wonder what would happen if zombies burst into that garden and tried to kill them all.” Tommy Walsh wouldn’t have been able to, rather woodenly, tell you about van insurance and ITV would have had to find someone else to fill the gap now filled by Alan Titchmarsh and his chat show.
Hmm, now I’ve said that I almost wish zombies had broken into the garden and killed them all… anyway, what was I talking about? Ah, yes, Plants Vs Zombies – the game which effortlessly mixes the undead and horticulture has taken root on the Xbox Live Arcade after previously blossoming on the PC and iPhone.
Plants vs Zombies is a tower defence game. You have a lovely lawn behind your house, which backs onto a road full of zombies. These zombies, for some reason, have taken a little bit of an exception to your house in particular and want to eat your brains. Using your horticultural know how, you figure the best way to stop the brain-munching and live a happy and contented life is to grow plants in your garden which will eliminate the threat. It’s a surprisingly simple concept – unlike many tower defence games, you’re not having to worry about which paths the zombies will take – they’ll swarm up the five lanes of your garden trying to get into your house – so it’s simply a case of planting a row of pea shooters. Or at least it is to begin with – there are 49 types of plant to unlock through the course of the game – all of which require different amounts of sunlight (generated naturally during the day, and by sunflowers or special mushrooms at night) and balancing your sunlight reserves with your defensive needs soon becomes a challenge – particularly when a new type of zombie is introduced. But it’s definitely a challenge that you can rise to.
PopCap are the masters of the “one more go” genre. When Peggle was released people literally couldn’t tear themselves away from it. I’ve found that Plants Vs Zombies is exactly the same. My brains may have been eaten more times than I’d care to remember. Or am capable of remembering, for that matter, but each and every time I’ve hit retry and started the level again. I haven’t once had that feeling that you’ll sometimes get with a game that having to repeat a section is a bit of a chore or when you start to wonder if it’s worth it.
Graphically the game has never looked so good. The XBLA version is, as you may expect, the highest resolution version of the game. The zombies are well presented – looking just like you’d expect a cartoon zombie to look – while the plants are distinctive enough to be able to pick the right one at the right time with no bother. The controls are simple as well, pick your patch of lawn with the left stick, plant your seed with a press of the A button and you’re off – you can flick between seed types with the bumper buttons and dig up blanks with B. You can also, once you unlock it, apply butter to the zombies with a press of the X button. It’s that simple. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated – as you’d expect for something that’s been on both the PC and iPhone – it’s all about the accessibility.
There are seven game modes which are unlocked by playing through the main adventure, including puzzle, survival and a couple of exclusive multiplayer modes – co-op and versus modes, with the co-op mode allowing you to play through the whole adventure with a friend or tackle a co-op challenge. The versus mode lets one player play as plants and the other as zombies – as plants you defend your house, as with the main game. As zombies, however, you’re defending three targets – once they’re gone you’ve lost. The game plays the same in versus mode – you have to collect sunlight (or brains) to deploy your armies. And there’s 21 mini-games to have a go at including Wall-nut bowling, whack-a-zombie and an exclusive “Heavy Weapon” inspired one as well. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen that one yet.
Time for just one more go.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With PeaShooter plants and Hypno-Shrooms. And Chompers all in a row. A worthy investment of your hard-earned Microsoft Points, Plants Vs Zombies is a blooming marvellous game that will leaf you wanting more. I can’t say mulch more than that.