Note: This review covers v1 of the game. The developer notes that the latest version contains 20 new achievements and a make-your-own-zombie feature. –Editor
The zombies are coming for you…by way of your lawn. In Plants vs. Zombies, you defend your suburban homestead (and your delicious brains) by planting Peashooters, Potato Mines, Fume-Shrooms, and more. A cross between Resident Evil and Alice Greenfingers, this gleefully goofy game combines horticulture with pop culture–and gives you a healthy dose of humor with your zombie-shooting action.
Plants vs. Zombies starts you out with one little strip of turf that you man with Peashooters, which shoot peas at the zombies. As the zombies advance into ballistic vegetable matter, they fall apart amusingly. Should one get through your lines of defense, a lawnmower will mow it down…but don’t over-rely on that. Even in the suburbs, the lawnmower supply is limited–and if the zombies reach the front door, you become an off-screen brain buffet.
The planting is hardly an idyllic weekend activity. Plants need sunshine, which falls from the sky or from the Sunflowers you plant–but not as quickly as you might like. Not only that, each seed packet has to refill with seeds before you can use it again. As the game progresses in difficulty, you’ll find yourself creating strategies for harvesting sunlight and planting at just the right time. Courtesy of the Doom & Bloom Seed Company, you earn packets of new botanical weaponry: exploding Cherry Bombs, enemy-slowing Snow Peas, fortress-like Wall-Nuts, and more.
Over time, more types of zombies shamble forward: zombies helmeted with traffic cones or buckets, armored with screen doors, carrying poles for vaulting. The landscape changes, too, adding more lawn. Eventually, the zombies head for the back yard pool, and you’re treated to the sight of zombies floating in ducky life preservers. It takes wit and a well-stocked gardening arsenal to stop them. Your well-named neighbor Crazy Dave is the proprietor of the in-game store, selling new seeds and gardening implements of doom. You buy them from the back of Crazy Dave’s station wagon with the money earned in mini-games and the change zombies drop when they expire.
Plants vs. Zombies is like nothing you’ve ever seen, but it incorporates all kinds of things you have seen. One zombie type wears disco duds. (It replaces the parody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video costume of the first version, when Jackson was still alive). Others, such as the Dolphin Rider Zombie and the Jack-in-The-Box Zombie, seem like winks at movies. And it’s hard not to start singing Little Shop of Horror tunes when you first see the Chomper plants in action. The zombies and the plants just get stranger and stranger. Add to this the 20 unlockable mini games (Slot Machine, Wall-Nut Bowling are favorites) and many puzzles, and Plants vs. Zombies keeps on surprising you.
Plants vs. Zombies goes for goofiness, not gore. Expect cartoony zombie decapitations, but no blood spatters. Zombies call out their rallying cry of “Brains!” over Laura Shigihara’s light-hearted score. This version keeps things fresh for players of the original with the addition of the Zombatar avatar maker and new Achievements section for surveying awards. If you’re up all night with Plants vs. Zombies, it’ll be because you’re having too much fun to stop, not because you’re too rattled to sleep.
Note: This demo is level-locked at level 3-4 and is a few plants shy of the full version. To keep playing whack-a-zombie on your lawn, you must pay Crazy Dave…er, vendor PopCap Games …the full $20. Dave tells you all about it himself in a “nag scene” at the end of the demo. To play the Mac demo instead, see our download of the Mac demo.