If there’s one genre that is over-represented on the iPhone, it has got to be tower defense. With a minimal investment of money and people power, you can push a serviceable game out to the market in a short period of time. With a few exceptions (the excellent GeoDefense comes to mind), the platform is saturated with mediocre clones of clones of clones of TD standards.
It’s no secret that the Gamer Limit crew went a bit ga-ga over the PC release of Plants Vs. Zombies; it came in runner up to Torchlight for best PC game in our 2009 Game of the Year Awards. With the transition to the iPhone, PopCap faced the twin challenges of recreating the original PvZ magic with a new control scheme/hardware and standing out amidst the shambling horde of tower defense offerings already available. Read on for the official Gamer Limit verdict!
Plants Vs. Zombies places you in the role of a benign Poison Ivy, meaning you can instantly grow offensive, defensive, and resource generating plants to counter a perpetually increasing zombie assault on your home. Rather than recreate the wheel, I highly recommend newcomers to the IP who want to get a sense of the gameplay to read our own Chris Carter’s excellent and thorough review of the original.
With the popularity of the PC version, Popcap could have easily phoned it in, gimped this port, and still made a boatload of cash. Thankfully, PvZ for the iPhone maintains the same gameplay and structure as its PC sibling; the majority of the offering makes it into its new smaller packaging.
One of the things which greatly impressed me about PvZ is how silky smooth the difficulty curve is compared to other iPhone tower defense games. Both the number and type of zombies they throw at you scale so nicely that you’re always challenged to raise your game, but you’re never faced with an unreasonable spike in enemies. This is an important feature to note, as the replacement cost for an iPhone thrown in frustration is much higher than for a broken controller or mouse.
The star of this port, however, is the way that the gameplay transitions to touch controls. I have a serious pet peeve about developers who try to shoehorn PC or console controls into an iPhone game, as it usually results in a disappointing or unwieldy experience for the player. I am pleased to report that PopCap’s IP not only survives the transition, but the gameplay is actually enhanced by it.
The touchscreen means that multiple digits can be used to plant and gather resources. The user interface for the iPhone version places the plant types along the left side of the screen, which allowed me to select plants types with my left thumb and then immediately place them with my right thumb.
Resource gathering becomes more efficient as well, as you can machine gun tap over your sunflowers or sunshrooms instead of dragging the mouse cursor to each unit of sun one at a time. This lets the player focus more on strategy and less on execution; it really allowed me to enjoy the game more.
Players looking for the full Plants vs. Zombies experience may be a tiny bit disappointed; the fun mini-games are not unlockable to access from the main menu (only available in the adventure mode), and the game lacks the endless mode present in the PC version. This is a small quibble in the context of the overall offering, but it does bear noting.
In a garden full of tower defense weeds on the iTunes Store, Plants vs. Zombies stands tall and proud, like a sunflower. PopCap could have readily gotten away with a $5 or even $10 price point and drawn plenty of buyers in.
The fact that they include almost the full PC experience (which was priced at $20), while also enhancing the experience by making it work flawlessly with the touch controls, and offering it all at a paltry $3 entry fee, makes this purchase a no-brainer. In the crazy world of iPhone games, a no-brainer is a gift from above; especially since brains tend to attract lots of zombies.
Gamer Limit gives Plants vs. Zombies for the iPhone a 9.5/10.