This is one of the very few reviews that can start off with the two words, "Buy it!"
It doesn't matter if you are a hardcore gamer or a casual player who tends to use the Xbox 360 more for Netflix than actual gaming. Either way, PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies has something that is sure to appeal. For a seemingly "casual" title, it also happens to be quite heavy on content. You'll be getting your money's worth.
In case you missed it last year on the PC, Plants vs. Zombies is basically an amusingly cute take on the zombie apocalypse. Rather than the bloody realistic gibs of Left 4 Dead 2, Plants vs. Zombies opts for humor above all else. The zombies may want to "eat your BrainZ!" but they still like you.
Supporting you in your quest for survival are Crazy Dave (who may just be the only other human alive) and the rockin' plants in your garden. Yes, they really do rock out. Finish the adventure mode, and they'll put on a music video for you. The plants are that cool.
Pulling inspiration from the tower defense genre, Plants vs. Zombies has you fending off wave after wave of zombie bad guys with nothing but a handful of different plants. Some are resource generators (such as the sunflowers, which give you the sun needed to grow other plants), while others, like the Snow Pea, shoot frozen peas that cause damage and slow down the oncoming horde simultaneously.
The zombies are just as creatively conceived, with Bungee Zombie attacking from above, while Dancing Zombie busts out the disco moves (complete with backup dancers) before attacking. Each zombie has a specific set of strengths and weaknesses, so part of the challenge is choosing the correct selection of plants to counter the current wave. Early on your collection is limited, so choosing well is an easy task, but as the game progresses, making the right choice becomes increasingly more important. Levels can be won (or lost) with a judicious selection.
In terms of difficulty, Plants vs. Zombies scales extremely well. Things start off absurdly easy while the game teaches you the basics, but before you know it, the challenge has ramped up and you find yourself on the verge of being overwhelmed. Most importantly, the game never becomes overly difficult. It always provides a challenge, yet never feels unfair.
After completing the adventure mode, a plethora of extras open up to extend replay value. Just like on the PC original, you'll find puzzle mode, survival and minigames. Most of what's here is the same, though you will find a minigame exclusive to the Xbox 360. You have the option of replaying a more difficult adventure mode, and on your second time through, Crazy Dave randomly chooses some of the plants for you. The Zen Garden is nothing but a time waster, but it can be surprisingly addicting. Of course, the real bonus here is the addition of co-op and versus modes. Just like we mentioned in the preview, multiplayer has finally come to Plants vs. Zombies.
Sadly, multiplayer is local only. There is no Xbox Live support, so you can't prove that you're better than your buddy on the East Coast if you live on the West. For everyone else, it's on. Going at it in versus mode splits the playfield into thirds. The plants get two-thirds of the space, while the zombies get what's left. To win, zombies need to get into the house. Plants, on the other hand, need to destroy three of the five zombie targets.
Playing competitively opens up a whole new aspect of the game, as a human player will react in ways that just isn't possible with a computer AI. Assuming you have two evenly matched players, it's possible for a versus game to last for quite a while. Much like the single-player adventure, choosing your team wisely is very important. Players alternate selections; you want to make sure you snag appropriate counters for everything your opponent is going to throw at you.
Co-op can be just as much fun, especially since there are two variants available. Adventure mode offers drop-in/drop-out co-op, letting two players share a plant set and sun meter. It's a great way for families to play together, or for a better player to assist another. If you want something that requires a bit more teamwork, then there are the co-op challenge levels.
Here, each player gets half the plants and you each get your own sun meter. Because you've split the plants and the sun, you need to work together to effectively fight the zombies. If one player monopolizes all the sun, the other won't be able to assist. In case you get in a tight spot, co-op gives you the ability to temporarily "freeze" zombies with a slab of butter. It's a real-time freeze, which means it only lasts as long as one of you is holding down the button, but it can be a lifesaver.
Also worth mentioning are the controls. They rock. The original PC version used the mouse, while the iPhone versions used touch. Making the move to a controller could have been rough, but PopCap pulled it off fantastically. Not only is movement absolutely seamless with the controller, but it's also possible to maneuver more quickly on the Xbox 360 than on the PC because the shovel is mapped to a button and you have the ability to automatically collect sun with the right trigger.
At 1,200 Microsoft points ($15), Plants vs. Zombies is a bit more expensive on the Xbox 360 than on the PC, where you can snag it from Steam for a mere $10. If you've never played the game, it is well worth the cost. Plants vs. Zombies is loads of fun, and you are guaranteed to get your money's worth and then some. If you already own a version of the game, it all comes down to multiplayer. Assuming you have a friend to play with, it's worth buying all over again.
More articles about Plants vs. Zombies