STAFF REVIEW of Plants vs. Zombies (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Thursday, September 23, 2010.
by Ken Laffrenier

Plants vs. Zombies Box art The male species is not exactly well documented for their gardening prowess. While there are a few out there that have a bit of a green thumb, I am completely certain that when given the choice of facing pylon-wearing and dolphin-riding Zombies or smiling sunflowers and pea-shooting plants, we would react just as our female counterparts would; with abject confusion and a desire to get the plants working for our side.

Popcap games was created in 2000 and is most recognizable for its flagship release Bejeweled and most recently Peggle, along with a myriad of various time management strategy titles. While originally targeting the PC, Mac and online marketplace, the team has experienced outstanding success with their expansion to the console and handheld markets. Plants vs. Zombies has, by far, garnered the most attention by being their fastest selling title (selling over 300,000 copies in its first 9 days as an iphone/ipod app) and picking up numerous awards (across all platforms) since its development in May 2009.

Finally, Plants vs. Zombies (PvZ) makes its debut on the Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace, and while the numbers are not yet in; since having the time to review this title I have no doubt that PopCap will need to make a little more room on the mantle for upcoming accolades.

As a tower defense game the idea is not new, what is new is the incredible delivery. Instead of the usual twisting path or line of enemies your battlefield is your backyard, front yard, roof?essentially your home is the last vestige of civilization. The Zombies will attack along a series of horizontal paths and this is where you partner with the plants to hold back the onslaught. For the intellectuals out there asking ?why are Zombies attacking your house? I have this to say: ?they?re Zombies darn?it, they don?t need a reason?. Like any good game, PvZ promises to be an escape from reality and making it enjoyable only extends the many hours you?ll spend with this title.

Any engaging game offers variation and PvZ certainly addresses this opportunity with almost 50 different plants, to use as both your offensive attacks and your defensive strategies. Add man-made defenses (lawnmower and a pool skimmer) and you've got just what you need to survive an attack from more than 25 different Zombies. The game starts with a limited number of different 'seed packs', completing levels awards you with new 'seed packs' that feature new plants to add to your arsenal, or the occasional note from your neighbour or a note from the Zombies themselves (da, da, dummmm!). Of course, the Zombie attacks start off with the expected slow moving, dim witted minions but as the levels progress you will be faced with everything from pole vaulting Zombies to Football player Zombies to a Zombie bobsled team. Needless to say, the games intensity builds in later levels as you seek to match you arsenal against ever evolving attacks.

The game uses 'sunlight' as a currency; sunlight falls from the sky but can also be created by sunflowers. You must manage the collection and spending of these 'points'. The nighttime levels are more challenging because of the decided lack of sunshine falling from the sky, instead you must rely solely on your sunflowers...don't plant enough and you won't have any 'points' to spend to ensure your ongoing safety. To help you along your journey is your aptly named neighbour 'Crazy Dave'. Crazy Dave will offer some insights and occasionally you will be able to purchase upgrades from the back of Dave's van (money is awarded at the end of levels and randomly dropped throughout levels specifically, for these perks).

As a value add to the Xbox community, this iteration of PvZ sees the introduction of cooperative and competitive local multiplayer. While the lack of online play is a knock against the game, there is a tremendous amount of enjoyment to be had playing against or with your friends (and playing as the attacking zombies to wipe out your friends plants is especially satisfying). There is also an innovative visual presented with the usual leaderboard offering; when you see you friends 'scores' you actually see their houses littered with the remains of Zombies and ornaments representing your achievements.

My biggest concern going into this game was the controls. Having played this title as a touchscreen offering I was apprehensive about how the Xbox controller would fare. To my utter surprise the developers seem to have really spent a lot of time fine tuning every aspect of the control scheme. Seed packets are chosen, on the fly, utilizing the right and left bumpers while the sunlight is drawn to your target reticule using the left and right triggers. Moving around the screen using the left stick is seamless and you quickly adapt to this layout.

Chasing achievements aside, the need to see the newest plant or get through just one more finally wipe out the attacking zombies on level 34....the delightful, if brief, mini-games.....the varied attack styles and animations....all keep you glued to your controller like a pea in a pod.

If you are one of the few individuals that have not experienced this title within one of its many incarnations then you are truly in for a treat. If, as expected you?ve experienced Zamboni driving Zombies in the past, then get ready to revisit a familiar addiction (or you live on the West Coast and this is referred to as the afternoon ZdZ). At only 1200 points this is a great addition to any collection; besides where else can you see a Zombie vault over a walnut seed only to be taken out by shrubbery armed with watermelon?

Overall: 9.1 / 10
Gameplay: 9.2 / 10
Visuals: 8.9 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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