Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time

The original Plants vs. Zombies was released over four years ago, and was a darling of a game. Popcap took the tower defense genre, which at the time was growing, and attached the simple premise of protecting your house from zombies with attacking plants. It hit critical success and was released on virtually everything with a screen. Fans have been clamoring for a sequel, and now we are finally graced with Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time. Instead of releasing on PC first and spreading it from there, Popcap started with iOS and has plans to release the game on other formats. I'm enjoying my time with PvZ2, but have a few qualms that detract from the overall experience.

PvZ2’s story starts with Crazy Dave and his search for the missing taco. Crazy Dave is a character brought back from the original game who sold you plants from his car trunk. You time travel with Crazy Dave across several time periods, pitting you against mummified, pirate, cowboy, and other zombies. Little story narratives are sprinkled between each stage, but overall feel unnecessary. Plus, the humor might be amusing to those who still find wittiness in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

But you don't play Tower Defense games for a riveting story, you play them for the addictive gameplay. Plants vs. Zombies is one of the best and most polished Tower Defense games I've played, and the sequel perfectly carries that over. It's a pleasant looking game that works great with a touch screen. It hiccups on occasion but that’s probably the result of receiving push notifications. During moments where stuff was flying everywhere, the game was running smooth on my iPhone 4s.

PvZ is played on a horizontal grid that zombies stumble down the lane heading toward your character. You set up plants with different offensive abilities and actions to destroy the wide range of enemies. Depending on how the land is laid out and what zombies you are facing varies greatly how you go into each level; you're limited to the amount of plants you can bring with you. Each level, besides the bonus stages, starts with planting a few sunflowers to produce sun (currency), and then building up your defense. It’s repetitive, but levels escalate so rapidly that it never bothered me much.

Stated above, each world has a set theme you traverse like a western or pirates. When you get to the end of the world, your progress is halted until you’ve collected enough stars by replaying the levels you just went through. They do throw new challenges at you, including only spending a predetermined amount of sun or not planting on certain squares, but you are essentially playing in the same setting against the same enemies. Why wouldn't they let me collect the stars along the way? The first world forces you to collect fifteen stars before progressing, but the second world asks for thirty, and stars do not carry between worlds. Also, parts of the map are blocked by keys that you collect throughout, which unlocks new plants or stat bonuses. But if you don't feel like replaying the same levels, you can always pay your way through with real money.

The original Plants vs. Zombies debuted at $19.99 on Popcap's website but was discounted to $9.99 on services like Steam. Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a free-to-play game with microtransactions selling coins, keys and plants that are obtainable only by purchasing them. When you get to the star gate and have to turn around and replay levels to collect stars, you have the option to pay $5 to skip all that into the next world. There are also sales for certain items. I would have much rather paid for the game up front besides being hounded for a little bit here and there. Asking $10 for this game up front is not unreasonable, but there is something sleazy about trying to nickel and dime your customers who are trying to enjoy your game. I hope they release a paid version on other platforms, but for now I’ll put up with the nagging of purchase requests.

The core gameplay in Plants vs. Zombies 2 is still a lot of fun and constantly throws new challenges at you for spice. Gameplay is not much different from the first game, but it has been a long enough gap that I was more than ready to jump back into PvZ. While the humor falls flat and the constant asking for microtransactions is a bit much, the overall game is perfect in quick bursts of gaming on the go, and is addictive enough to keep you coming back.