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Plants vs. Zombies – Game Review

Plants vs. Zombies opening screen

Release Date: May 5, 2009
System: Windows/PC or Mac
Rating: Cartoon violence, so take that for whatever it’s worth
Price: $19.95 at PopCap

Publisher: PopCap Games

There might be a backstory to the game, but if there is, I didn’t bother to find it out. If there was one, it might be something like this, in a nutshell. Zombie holocaust. In your neighborhood, at least. And you’re some kind of mad vegetarian Dr. Moreau, because you’ve got an army of seeds that will sprout plants to defend your home from the undead.

That’s really all you need to know. It’s quite possibly the perfect storm of addictive games, which is why I’m going ahead and reviewing the goddamn thing so I can uninstall it before I spend any more time with it. First, it’s tower defense–which, for non-gamers like me, basically means you set up items that have distinct qualities that enable you to defend yourself against increasingly specialized attacking forces. If you haven’t played a game like this, seriously, don’t. Because it is a timesuck of the highest order. Second, it’s zombies. And you know how we are on this site about zombies.

[ad#longpost]And thirdly, it’s goofy and cartoony as hell. We’re talking Q*Bert: The Animated Series goofy. Seriously: the plants sort of shuck and jive to their own crazy beat. You get pea shooters that just literally shoot peas–and you can eventually upgrade to gatling pea shooters. Giant Audrey II-like plants will literally swallow your enemies whole and then spend some time chewing and digesting. Melon catapults do exactly what you think they do–and you can eventually upgrade to winter melons that do damage and freeze/slow down your opponents.

The zombies get increasingly mental as well. Sure, there’s regular garden variety (ha!) zeds. Then they start coming armored (either a traffic cone or a bucket for a helmet, for example). Then they start coming with undead dolphins (for the pool levels). Or a bobsled team. Or a Thriller zombie who calls up backup dancers. Just fantastic.

The problem with a lot of tower defense games (or so I’ve found) is that you get a bunch of repetition until finally the game comes crashing to an end because you’ve finally hit a level that’s just so goddamn hard you can’t get past it and you lose interest. Otherwise known as “The Populous Effect.” Here, though, the game keeps it fresh by giving you the front yard, the backyard (with pool), the backyard at night, and then even the roof. Bonus levels let you bowl giant walnuts at your enemies or play Whack-a-Zombie.

Plants vs. Zombies screengrab
Plants vs. Zombies mayhem. Click to embiggen.

And even if you finally defeat the big boss and effectively end the main game, you can always play again (which is naturally harder) or play any number of mini-games, puzzles or “survival” levels. The mini-games are anything from a giant seed-giving slot machine to zombie/plant hybrids to an incredibly strange aquarium where you have to feed your snorkeling zombies brains to get…yeah, I just confused myself. The puzzles are either levels where you have to break vases to reveal either plants or zombies and then defend your house accordingly…or where you get to play the zombies. And the survival levels let you build up a defense over multiple attacks and try to survive.

There’s also a place where you can buy upgrades, like the gatling and winter melons, or the ability to have more seeds in your “arsenal” on levels, or even stuff for your zen garden, where you can grow plants and get coin.

It seems a ridiculous amount of fun (and timesuck) for $20. You literally could keep right on playing this and not get tired, especially if you’re the easily addicted type like me. But rather than try to make it through all the hard survival levels and finish that last mini-game, I’m going to bolt for the hills. Because the only thing more devastating than a zombie holocaust is a really good game about one.