Much like an actual zombie apocalypse, PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies has managed to spread like a disease to basically every gaming device known to man. Unlike zombieism, however, this is a disease you definitely want to catch, as the quirky "lawn defense" game is easily one of the most fun and distracting strategy titles to arrive in quite some time. Considering the fact that the game has been ported to nearly every other device out there, we've long been wondering why the title hadn't yet made it to the DS. Now we know, and it's because while the game is just as enjoyable on Nintendo's handheld, this is easily the title's weakest iteration.
In case you've somehow managed to miss out on the game, Plants vs. Zombies tasks you with defending your lawn from a shambling zombie horde. You keep the undead at bay by filling your yard with a variety of plants that will eliminate the monsters before they reach your house. Simple plants like Pea Shooters fire off projectiles that cause small amounts of damage that add up quickly, while more advanced botanical wonders freeze zombies in place, squish them flat or burn them to cinders. Each of the 48 plant varieties has its own strengths and weaknesses, and players are free to mix and match to find the best balance of offense and defense.
Of course, you'll need every plant available to you, as there are nearly as many varieties of zombies as there are plants. For instance, the Pole Vaulting Zombie leaps over your first line of defense, so you'll want to employ a Tall-nut to block his progress and stymie his charge. Also, Snorkel Zombies can swim under shots fired at them in the pool, but a Tangle Kelp snags them easily and sends them to Davy Jones' Locker. The balance is superb, and it's a feather in the cap of PopCap that they've managed to hide such a deep game underneath such a player-friendly veneer.
The DS version of PvZ is being touted as the definitive edition of the game due to it containing all of the extra features found in other editions plus a few more bonuses. The Puzzle and Survival modes from the PC version are here, as well as the Versus mode that debuted on Xbox Live. The new edition also boasts four brand-new exclusive minigames that are meant to take advantage of the special features of the DS. For instance, in the new Heat Stroke minigame, players slide a set number of plants around the yard to defend against the zombies and must shout into the microphone when the plants lose energy and stop attacking. None of the new challenges are really all that impressive, though, and their inclusion doesn't do much to entice those who own PvZ for one (or several) other platforms to invest in yet another version.
Where the DS edition of the game really finds itself lacking is in the presentation department, as this is easily the ugliest, most clunky version of the game to hit store shelves. If you've played the game on any other device, including portable options such as the iPhone, the first thing you'll be struck by is just how awful the graphics are on the DS. The level of detail on both the plants and zombies has dropped considerably, and a lot of animation frames have also been cut out to make the game run on Nintendo's handheld. If you've played the game on any other platform, then you can't help but be disappointed by how it looks on the DS.
Sound design suffers a similar fate, as the music has also been compressed to run on the DS and sounds quite bad. The game's soundtrack has always been considered an incredibly strong feature, but unfortunately, this version once again fails to live up to the standards set on other platforms. Those who are playing for the first time won't notice a difference, but anyone migrating over from PC, iPhone, etc., will be sorely disappointed.
As if all that weren't enough, the controls, which should be the highlight of the game, also come up short. Plants can only be placed by tapping a seed packet and then dragging it to a spot on the lawn, and there's no option to simply tap a seed packet and then tap a square to place an ally. It may not sound like a big deal, but those who are used to quickly tapping plants and plots to build up defenses in a swift and effective manner will be severely annoyed. Also, the silver coins that pop out from time to time are tough to see and even tougher to snag, especially when they're located in the corners. While the controls of the game do indeed work on the DS, they are far from intuitive and definitely not the best.
Though Plants vs. Zombies on the DS may claim to have the most features, it fails to live up to expectations in all the areas that matter most. The new minigames add very little, the graphics and sound are garish, and the controls are too limited for a game that has been so much more impressive elsewhere. I'm one of those people who owns PvZ on every single device I have, even though they're mostly identical. This is such a terrific title that I didn't mind buying it over and over again, but this time, I have to put my foot down. If you have Plants vs. Zombies on any other platform (or are at least capable of buying it on one), then don't bother with this edition. However, if you only own a DS and haven't played the game elsewhere, then it's absolutely a must-buy because everything else aside, this is one of the greatest strategy games ever made.
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