Review: Plants vs. Zombies 2 – It’s About Time

Well the sequel to one of 2009/2010’s biggest games has finally returned. The title is a bit of a joke for anyone that’s been waiting on the game’s sequel, but when you actually look at the release schedule for all the different platforms it paints a clear picture that Pop Cap was busy making money everywhere they could. With Plants vs. Zombies and other popular titles, the company was actually bought by EA. So how is the sequel? Well for starters it’s moved to free to play, but adapts the micro-transaction formula. Meaning you can play the entire game free, but there is the inclusion of paying for unlocks or power ups in order to beat the game without investing as much time. For me this was the biggest downside to this game. It’s not terrible and you can play the entire game without paying for anything which is what I did, but I would rather have given them money up front and not been bothered by the reminders and sales pitches. Currently the game is only available on iOS which basically means it was built for mobile. The success of micro-transaction games on mobile can’t be argued, but it does lend itself to the question of whether this game can be adapted for the pc/console at some point. Will it keep the micro-transactions or will it be alternated for the platform?

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The game itself is a very polished product and has many improvements from the first game. There’s even a bull-shit story. Dave has lost his taco in time and wants you to get it back… and now his truck with camper talks as well. Speaking on that, Dave and his truck is easily the most annoying thing about this game. Dave was funny in the first game, but he sure as hell didn’t need a robot sidekick cracking the same lame jokes. Sadly I didn’t find him funny once and really wanted to turn them off, but there wasn’t an option.

The animation is also very improved and I enjoyed the designs and changes for the plants. You can definitely see the improvements and that was a great first impression of the product.

Rather than just an improved version of the first game you’re transported through time which is actually a good mix up. There’s only so much you can do in the front and backyard of a house so the setting change adds a lot of variety.

The three starter levels each have a theme and the first I’ll talk about is the Egyptian level. In true Plants vs. Zombies fashion you’re always given the plants you need to get the job done. You thankfully start off with a decent amount of plants unlocked and learn rather quickly about the new zombies you’re facing. I have to say that I enjoyed the challenge of this level’s zombies the most. There’s a sun capturing zombie that if left unchecked can halt your progress. There are several new hat wearing zombies with a variety of hit totals, but none worse than the mummy casket zombie. This zombie is slow-moving, but can do a lot of damage quickly. The worst part is that once you break the casket the zombie inside moves fast since it no longer has as much weight to drag around. Each level has its own unique challenge to the landscape and for this level it’s the tombstones. It’s not like the first game in which they’d occasionally be a problem, they’re always a problem.

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The second level is Pirate themed. Now this isn’t a revamped water level if that’s what you’re thinking, it actually takes place on two ships. Your ship is boarded and the amount of planks the zombies have varies. This level has, in my opinion, some of the hardest zombies to deal with. The trick to this level is not to be distracted by the planks because when you do you leave yourself open to swinging or flying zombies, not to mention the cannons full of annoying little dudes. This level adds three new plants: the Snapdragon, Coconut Cannon and Spring Bean and are great additions.

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The third level is Wild West themed. It’s difficult that’s for sure, but it adds some great plants that become useful on previous levels. Definitely my favorite is the Chili Bean which is an instant kill when zombies eat it, but as they die they fart which freezes any zombies behind it. The other great addition to the game is the Pea Pod which is a stackable shooter. You can essentially level up the shooter five times which is useful for the entire level which takes a less-is-more approach. The challenge to this level is mine carts that run vertically across the layout. You’re given varying track layouts and can only plant one plant on a mine cart. The rest of the track is un-plantable, but the cart moves. This means at times you can actually defeat a level with just three plants, but it also means that sometimes you have to do just that and it can be difficult.

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The game has a ton of replay value and basically encourages you to do so instantly. Part of this is the micro-transactions formula, but a majority of this is just a change in the overall structure. Rather than having separate challenges under separate menus as the first game did, the sequel supplies a three star challenge to each level on each world. For each star though you must complete a different challenge and they can sometimes suck a lot. Even though they’re very challenging they can be a lot of fun too.

There’s another type of unlock that involves picking up keys while you’re playing; these keys can then be used to unlock other challenge areas and different powers ups for the game. You can also pay to unlock these areas, but if you were any good at the first game you’ll be able to gather keys very easily just by playing the levels and challenges. Behind each unlock is a booster; in some instances it’s an extra slot to hold a plant or my personal favorite is the percentage of sun returned to you if you need to dig up a plant.

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There are a couple of elements that completely change how the game can be played and again entice you into a micro-transaction. Your coins collected this time around can be used for a variety of things. The first is a plant power up. These are also dropped by green glowing zombies and when applied to the different plants help in many ways. For instance if you give it to a sunflower they’ll shoot out extra sun which can be very effective in building your strategy sooner on a difficult level. When given to one of my favorite new plants, Bonk Choy, he goes on a punching rampage hitting in a full circle around him which can be a huge help in saving a plant before it’s eaten. I actually enjoyed this addition because it was fun and changed how the game was approached. I just wish it didn’t try to get money out of me at the same time.

The next power up that’s added comes in the form of “Upgrades.” There three factor the heaviest into the micro-transaction because they can be life savers when a level gets out of control. The first is “Power Pinch” in which you pinch the heads of as many zombies as possible before time runs out. The second is “Power Toss” where you lift zombies up and then swipe them away, again before the clock runs out. The last is “Power Zap” which basically electrocutes the zombies and does more damage the more you link the charge to. They activate simply by hitting the button the screen and then going to work on the zombies. These can all be purchased with the coins the game gives you so you don’t have to pay for them, but when you’re stuck on a challenge with no coins and you know that the final wave kills you every time you begin to wonder if that wasn’t the design.

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My household plays a lot of Plant vs. Zombies and my wife is still playing the original in-between our turns on the sequel. One thing we agreed on is that these upgrades ruin the satisfaction of beating a difficult challenge; especially one that you’ve tried over and over and couldn’t do without. I didn’t have any coins left and was stuck on a particularly annoying Egyptian level and no matter what combination I used the final wave destroyed me each time. I finally got it down to the perfect selection of plants, but even still one coffin toting zombie would get to a lawnmower and the challenge would be failed. Finally after enough times I had save enough coins for the Power Pinch and that ended up being how I beat the level. Maybe I could have waiting until I unlocked the freezing watermelon, but considering the sun cost for that plant I don’t know if it would have been useful. I didn’t feel good about the win, I felt like I had cheated and that’s what all the upgrades feel like: a quick cheat. It obviously doesn’t ruin the game, but it does rob you of some of the experience you’re hoping to recapture from playing the first one and I think that’s important since it’s why we tolerate and play sequels.

The touch screen interface is very responsive. Sure I’ve made a few mistakes because of being in a rush, but that’s bound to happen no matter what the interface is. I will say that you should adapt to using two hands/fingers quickly. You’re kind of programed to rely on one finger due to how the first is played, but you’re far more effective if you don’t have to cover the screen to make plant selections.

Overall I liked the game. It’s free so how can you really complain unless you don’t have an iOS operating system. Does it surpass the first game? Not exactly. Elements of it are very improved, but there’s something about the overall experience that isn’t there due to the micro-transactions begging for money whenever you’re struggling. Personally I was ready to pay for this game on the first day and so finding it free was nice, but I knew it would come with a catch. One of that catch being that some plants are only un-lockable with a purchase of real money and that’s not something I’m willing to do. The game has a ton of downloads already so it should be interesting to see how the pay and play goes and if there will be new levels added on in an attempt to keep people locked in and playing. If you have the operating system it’s worth downloading, but save your real money for something else.

Score: 4/5

Publisher: EA and Pop Cap

System: iOS

Price: Free