Here’s what amazes me about PopCap Games: they regularly come late to a videogame genre and make it their own through ridiculously high production values for casual games, very sticky gameplay, and a great sense of the absurd. Now they’ve taken on tower defense games such as Desktop Tower Defense and made a crazy addictive version that’s far more accessible than most examples of the genre.
Tower defense games involve you trying to stop enemies from getting across the screen. PopCap’s game involves zombies, whom you must stop with plants.
It’s got the usual tower defense elements. Wave after wave of enemies try to make it across the screen. You spend a limited but replenishing resource to build your defenses. But in this case it’s all slathered in a coat of cute. From the sunflowers that bob their heads back and forth to the zombies wearing a bucket on their head for protection, it’s all disgustingly cute.
The game has a gentle learning curve. At first zombies only arrive down one strip of lawn, then three, before moving to the full five. Instead of difficulty increasing mainly by throwing more zombies at you, the game introduces new variants of them, from those wearing some kind of armor to a full crew of zombies driving a zamboni. In addition, you get new plants to make your life easier, but you can only have seven of them available for any given level.
One of the things that used to drive me crazy in tower defense games was how, if you died on level 47, you got to start over. Plants vs. Zombies doesn’t force you to do that, thank goodness. And the game mixes it up throughout, with daytime and nighttime levels, zombie bowling levels, and even zombie-themed mini-games like Beghouled.
Really, though, a lot of the fun is seeing what new pun or joke will come up next. Cherry bombs that explode? Notes from the zombies signed “Mom (not the zombies)”? Mining zombies? It’s all in there, along with your neighbor Crazy Dave.
It won’t challenge hard-core gamers, the kind of gamers who think Desert Bus is too easy, but for $20 (or $10 on Steam if you’re so inclined), it’s got a lot of value packed in there.
Plus there’s a music video.