By Jeff Bond on August 16, 2013 at 8:00am
After many years, we finally have a sequel to the beloved "Plants vs. Zombies" tower defense game. However, does the game still retain it's original feel under a new publisher? I eagerly dive in to find out.
The very first time you launch "Plants vs Zombies 2," you are greeted with a cluster of things on the screen. There's a camera button for who knows what, followed by an input box (with no label, I assume it's for my name). There's a blue Facebook section beneath it, but it's covered up by the on-screen keyboard. I punch in my name, and sure enough, it's a connect-to-Facebook option hiding behind there! I'm also prompted about enabling Push Notifications, but I politely decline. Something else I've noticed is there's a progress bar at the top: "New Content Downloading..." I though this game just launched? New content? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming it's day-one bug fixes and carry on.
Admittedly, this is a "Plants vs Zombies" game, so I wasn't expecting a whole lot here. Crazy Dave is back, and this time, he has a time machine! You see, at the beginning of the game, you find a bottle of hot sauce. Crazy Dave is thrilled and proceeds to use it on an old taco he had happened to be saving for just such an occasion. After the taco is promptly eaten - nice and saucy - he is saddened. His time machine arrives (yes, it's sentient) and tells him that he can simply go back in time and enjoy it again! Back in time we go. But wait! We've gone too far! We're in ancient Egypt! We just have to wait a few years, and then we'll get to enjoy that taco again ... right? As you begin your journey, you find a map and are tasked with getting stars to help find your way home.
As Plants vs Zombies 2 is a freemium game, there are of course various ways to give them your money. Some items such as plants and upgrades are purchased with good old fashioned cash money. Other items such as Plant Food and special powers are purchased using Coins. Coins can thankfully be collected during game play, but not in a staggeringly efficient way of course. Coins that are purchased through the in-game shop are only applied to the currently selected profile, so make sure if you share your device, you're on the right profile!
One way the game tries to entice you to spend your money is via upgrades. At the time this article was written, four upgrades available. These upgrades cost either $2.99 or $3.99 depending on what you're after. You can purchase an additional seed slot, which allows you one additional plant type in your army, +25 starting sun at the beginning of each level, +1 Plant Food slot, and the ability to get a +25% refund when you shovel up a plant. Every one of these offers a distinct advantage, and purchasing the full set would cost you a pretty penny: $13.96. A small consolation is that these upgrades apply themselves to all profiles on the device.
Quite possibly the most controversial of the in-app purchases are the Premium Plants. In the previous title, these plants would be earned through regular game play, and there are some fan favorites in here. Plants available for purchase include the Imitater, Jalapeno, Torchwood, Snow Pea, Power Lily, and Squash. Once again, these each cost either $2.99 or $3.99, and if you want the full set, you're looking at $19.94. Plants purchased also count towards all profiles on the device.
The first new feature I ran across was Plant Food. Plant Food, when applied to a plant such as the Pea Shooter, gives it a powerful attack boost for a few seconds. You can obtain this Plant Food two different ways: you can kill glowing green zombies, or you can purchase them for 1,000 Coins (approx $0.60) each. You can hold three of these at a time and can purchase an upgrade to carry more. Plant Food is only good for the current level; it does not carry over.
Unlike in the first "Plants vs Zombies" game, you can remove Tombstones without a special plant. These tombstones are particularly annoying in their own right, though. If you are attempting to fire on an enemy and there is a tombstone between your plants and the zombie, your plant must first destroy the tombstone by blasting it to bits, which is a pretty slow process. Once the tombstone is destroyed, you now have a clean line of sight and can fire upon the zombies normally. Zombies have the ability to just slide on past tombstones. This is problematic, because your generic Pea Shooter will spend all it of its time destroying the tombstone, and before you know it, the zombie is munching away at your precious plants. One way to combat this is by the use of catapult style plants, such as the aptly named Cabbage-pult. These plants can lob their payload over the tombstones and hit the zombies normally.
Crazy Dave's Preserved Powers
To spice things up, and get more of that sweet cash money, there is yet another new mechanic to be found: special powers. The first two are pretty straight forward. Pinching allows you to pinch enemy zombies' heads, causing them to simply pop off and die. Swiping lets you fling enemies off the screen where they promptly die. Electrocution allows you to drag electricity over the enemies to zap them into dust. Each of these abilities costs more precious coins and lasts only a few seconds, way too few. These abilities cost 800 ($0.48), 1,200 ($0.72), and 1,000 ($0.60) Coins each respectively. Due to the extremely short duration, there isn't enough incentive to dish out the extra cash. The powers themselves are moderately effective, but you've got to be quick. You've got approximately three seconds to get your money's worth, hardly something I would spend my hard-earned money on. So far, I haven't run into any situations where I needed the powers, but they would have been nice on more than one occasion.
Aside from a few new features thrown in, the core game play remains largely unchanged. You still a plant selection at the beginning of each stage, five rows, mowers at the end of each row, new plants that unlock as time goes on, etc. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. The game feels familiar enough that someone who played the first one can skip the tutorial pretty easily, but there is enough new stuff going on that you don't feel like you're playing the same old game with a new title. A few times, I found myself overwhelmed when trying to collect the sun as it spawns, stopping what I can only assume is a Ra (the sun god) zombie from stealing my sun power, collecting coins dropped from enemies, grabbing Plant Food dropped by glowing green zombies, activating the Plant Food abilities if needed, and placing my new plants all at once. I can't imagine how hectic it would be if you tried using one of those three powers during all of that.
I'm also not entirely sure what to make of some of the upgrades you can purchase from the in-game cash shop. On one hand, I never felt like I actually needed them, which is good. On the other hand, some of them seem like they give the player a distinct advantage, which is (almost) fair; they are giving up real cash. But is it too much of an advantage?
Now I'm not going to sit here and claim to have beaten the entire game. It just came out today, after all. From what I've played so far though, the curve seems right about where it should be. I'm about a third of the way through the game,, and I haven't hit any walls where a simple replay with my new knowledge of how the level works wouldn't solve. I haven't found myself forced to use Crazy Dave's Preserved Powers, but I have enjoyed using the Plant Food boosts when I get them for free during regular game play. I haven't spent any coins yet and have decided to instead collect every one I see and become a hoarder until towards the end of the game. So far, that strategy has held out pretty well.
After the initial shell shock when I launched the game, I found myself enjoying it pretty immediately. The pacing is nice, and it absolutely seems the type of game you could sink a couple hours into without realizing it. I did find myself on more than one occasion saying "aha! another cash shop" as time goes on. However much to my surprise, none of the in-app purchases ever felt mandatory, at least not yet. For a freemium game, it certainly looks like you will be able to actually complete the thing without spending a dime if you don't want to.
This review was done with an iPad mini. The game is also available on iPhone and iPod touch. Because this review was written on launch day, I have not completed the game yet, so I cannot vouch for the difficulty that may occur once you reach closer and closer to the final level(s).