iPad Game Review: Plants vs. Zombies 2 (Universal) Review
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Plants vs Zombies 2 is the long-awaited sequel to the iOS megahit Plants vs Zombies. It offers new plants, new zombies, new worlds, and new strategies in a free-to-play package.
Like the original, Plants vs Zombies 2 (PvZ 2) is a lane-defense game that pits you against hordes of comically absurd undead with nothing to defend yourself but plants. These are no ordinary plants, however. Thanks to Crazy Dave, they have been modified to shoot, fling, explode, electrocute, flame, punch, block, freeze, butter, spring, and create sun (the in-game currency used to deploy plants). Yeah, Crazy Daveís some kind of genius. As you progress through the game, new zombies are introduced that are designed to defeat your defenses. However, the balance of power is maintained by a concurrent release of new plants to address this new threat. The tricks are knowing which plants to pick for each round, what order to defend your lanes, and how to build your defenses.
So, how does PvZ 2 differ from PvZ? First of all, itís much more difficult. This is somewhat mitigated by the availability of plant food that occasionally drops from green-tinted zombies. Place this plant food on any plant and watch it hulk-out in spectacular fashion. Pea Shooters turn into Gatling Pea Shooters, Cabbage-Pults fling cabbages all over the game board, Sunflowers spew sun, and Bloomerangs shoot a withering barrage in 4 directions. Every plant has its own special animation associated with this power-up, and they are satisfyingly spectacular to watch. There is also another way to get out of a tight spot, and thatís to spend your hard-earned gold to directly intervene by decapitating, electrocuting, or flinging zombies with your fingers. This is expensive, however, so use your god-like powers sparingly.
PvZ 2 is set in three (soon to be four) time periods: Ancient Egypt, the pirate-laden high seas, and the old west. Each zone is represented by a winding path occupied by various plants and upgrades. Some of these are locked behind gates, which can only be accessed by collecting the requisite number of keys, and each new world can only be accessed by collecting the requisite number of stars. In general, I would say that this is an unfortunate recipe for grinding (repeating the same levels over and over again, hoping for needed items to drop). Fortunately, most stars are awarded by beating old levels in new ways, which makes these previously-played levels feel new again.
PvZ 2 is a fantastic game that, unfortunately, stands in the very large shadow of its predecessor. First of all, there is no Zen Garden, which is my favorite part of the original game. Second, this game is much harder, and is clearly balanced toward In-App Purchases of additional plants, upgrades, and coins. And third, the mini-games and special game modes, while mostly still present, are scattered, unmarked, throughout the adventure map. Yeah, theyíre still there, but good luck finding them. Now, at the risk of sounding a bit like an apologist, Iím going to partially address my own complaints. First, the Zen Garden was ultimately a coin factory, something that has no place in a freemium title where microtransactions rule the day. Still, I miss it sorely, and feel the hand of EA, Popcapís new overlords, in its absence. Second, the gameís difficulty can be significantly eased by the purchase of plants, upgrades, and coins. While I definitely recommend the first two, I feel a great deal of disdain for the latter, especially for children who have absolutely no restraint, and will quickly blow-through thousands of coins at the first sign of trouble. For seasoned players, however, the purchase of coins is absolutely unnecessary. While Iíve never been hardcore enough to get anywhere near the original gameís leaderboards, I still managed to play through PvZ 2ís entire adventure and unlock every gate without spending a single coin of my earned gold or even any real money! It was hard, however, and I donít recommend it. Support the developers by buying some upgrades and plants. Youíll have more fun and theyíll get paid for their hard work. Just donít get hooked on coins. You really donít want that monkey on your back.
In an odd twist of fate, my boys and I ran into John Vechey, one of the founders of Popcap, while vacationing recently. I didnít recognize him, of course, but my youngest son immediately keyed on his Popcap sweatshirt and confronted him. Over the next half-hour, he chatted warmly with us about his games, and seemed genuinely happy to have his lunch party crashed. I was playing through PvZ 2 at the time, and also enjoyed the exchange. Thank you, Mr. Vechey; that lunch was the highlight of a great vacation, and they still talk about it.
If you liked the graphics of the original Plants vs Zombies, youíre going to enjoy the visuals of PvZ 2, as well. The style is unchanged (thankfully), but everything looks fantastically bright, crisp, and vibrant; even better than the first, thanks to retina graphics.
The vast majority of my gaming usually ends up with me turning the music off and the sound effects down. Occasionally, as I have noted in other reviews, a gameís music and/or sound effects are good enough that I even reach for my headphones. There are, however, only a very few games that reach that point of near audio perfection, and PvZ 2 is one such game. Satisfying and varied sound effects and possibly the best original video game music in the industry; the audio standard by which all games should be judged.
Plants vs Zombies 2 is a fantastic game that transcends my disdain for freemium titles by providing a fantastic gaming experience without getting greedy. While itís missing some key features present in the original (namely the Zen Garden), it is still one of the best gaming experiences youíre likely to find on any platform. Go download this game now, and donít be stingy about purchasing some plants and upgrades. Try to stay off the coin treadmill, however. It will get expensive fast.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Beautiful, amusing, and imaginative. A joy to look at. Sound: - 5 - The audio gold standard for video games. Fantastic sound effects that are surpassed only by the soundtrack. Controls: - 5 - Intuitive, responsive, efficient, and elegant controls make this game a treat to play. Gameplay: - 4 - Classic gameplay that somehow exceeds the original. Iím deducting a point for no Zen Garden, however.
Playing Hints and Tips:
As you collect keys, you will have the opportunity to unlock premium plants. On the Egyptian level unlock the Bloomerang first. In Pirate Seas, you should save your keys to unlock the extra seed slot first. And in Wild West, your first unlock should be Wal-Nut First Aid. Try not to spend any coins until you begin repeating levels to earn stars. Some of these challenges are unwinnable without an expenditure of coins. Always go after the Yeti Zombie whenever he shows up. His lunchbox contains fabulous prizes.