I can safely say that Plants vs. Zombies is my favorite “casual” franchise of all time. It’s just so easy to pick up and play for either a few minutes, for a few hours at a time.
Previous iterations of this tower defense title haven’t added anything new outside of a different control scheme, but now Popcap is looking to shake things up with new multiplayer modes in the recent XBLA release. I’m willing to bet you already own a copy of Plants vs. Zombies, so read on to find out if it’s worth shelling out fifteen more dollars of your hard earned cash.
The campaign is the exact same game you know and love, but this time the entire thing is playable with a friend (not online, unfortunately). Expect everything to last you about 5-7 hours, depending on how long you stop to smell the flowers, and once you’re done, you can do it all over again, but with a few handicaps. While the campaign is exactly the same, there is a completely new multiplayer component that’s easily worth checking out.
First off, you can select from various mini-games (including the all new exclusive dual stick shooter throwback), and co-op missions to play with a friend, which greatly increases your ability to mix things up from the typical style of play. Instead of drudging your way through the campaign over and over, you can attempt to survive wave after wave of endless zombie hoards – of course, you need to play most of the campaign to unlock these missions, which may put off some who have become tired of the familiar formula.
Thankfully Plants Vs. Zombies XBLA mixes things up greatly with Versus mode. Versus, the most significant new addition to the franchise, pits one player as plants and the other as zombies in an all out brawl fest. Plants operate as normal, but the zombies side gets to “plant” gravestones which yield the zombie’s currency; brain power (very much like how sunflowers yield sun power). Using brain power, a zombie player can choose what specific zombies to shamble in each row, all at separate costs.
The amount of zombies (and plants) available from your armory is dependent on how far you are in the single player campaign. While eventually you will reach a pretty solid breaking ground, it’s not particularly balanced at various points throughout the game. If you were playing a versus game fresh out of the box, the zombies have access to the particularly inexpensive, and exploitable pole vaulter, while the plant side has very little to counter this.
Essentially you can just spam pole vaulters before the plants can build anything, and take a quick victory. Alternatively, halfway through the game the plant team has access to quite a few “instant kill” powers that the zombies just can’t counter at that stage in the game. If you’re planning on playing as zombies, be ready for a pretty steep learning curve. Luckily, things do balance out once all of your options are available, and you can play a variant that randomizes both player’s choices.
The controls are a mixed bag, but they’re not particularly bad, per se. While it is a bit annoying to have to frolic around the grid playing field with the d-pad square by square, you can use the analog stick for a smoother cursor movement. While it may seem at first glance that you have to painstakingly collect each sun token one by one, thankfully there is a hidden way to “soak it up”: if you hold the L or R button, sun power magnetizes towards your cursor (Popcap manages to balance out this secret by forcing you to depress and hold the trigger for each instance of sun power, however).
Overall, it’s hard not recommend any version of Plants vs. Zombies, but if you don’t have a local friend to play with, and you’ve already played another version into the ground, you might want to skip this one.
This is the best looking version of Plants vs. Zombies, bar-none.
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The Xbox d-pad and analog stick work surprisingly well, but the control scheme is lacking compared to other options. Versus mode is pretty unbalanced towards the start, but gets extremely competitive and advanced down the line, which is a very welcome addition to this "casual" franchise.
The sound effects and music haven't changed - which isn't a bad thing in the slightest.
Not only can you beat the campaign again and again, but you'll also get a host of extra mini-games and multiplayer modes - long story short, it's an incredible value for $15.
While Plants vs. Zombies lacks the superior control scheme of iDevices (and even a good old fashioned PC mouse), the extra modes are worth a purchase: even if you already own another iteration!