For the past month, my co-workers have cheerfully put up with me gushing about the computer game Plants vs. Zombies. Some readers are unaware of the game’s many virtues, while others may find it surprising to find a blog post in 2012 about a game first released in 2009. I shall build a bridge between these two points of view, however, in my new blog segment: Delayed-Action Gamer.
A quick gaming biography: console video games weren’t allowed in our house until my brother and I petitioned (with Pros, Cons, and Promises) to get Gameboy Colors, for Pokémon’s sake. Interestingly, this has created within me a dual personality. I’m grateful to my parents for keeping me book-oriented, but am now susceptible to addictive video game behavior: reaching 100% completion, committing to full exploration, experimenting with various game modes, and of course, earning any and all achievements and unlockables within reason. As such, when my beloved introduced Plants vs. Zombies to me … trouble.
Before all else, let’s give it up for the title: it says it all. It isn’t ambiguous like Metal Gear Solid, it isn’t oxymoronic like Final Fantasy XIV. It is exactly what you’d guess: plants shooting down zombies, zombies munching on plants. Beyond that, the game is a perfect storm of addictive quality. Its aesthetic is gorgeous and appealing. Its soundtrack is subtle but enjoyable. Its sense of humor is Tim Schafer-worthy.
The gameplay itself is immediately graspable (grow plants, stop zombies), while the difficulty curve is thankfully graceful. The rewards of new Seed Packets are matched by the arrival of dangerous new zombies: your Cactus is fearsome, doubly so against the incoming Balloon Zombies; your Split Pea shooter looks strange but quickly proves its worth against invasive Digger Zombies.
It also has marvelous replay value and dozens of puzzles and mini-games: from the challenging Vasebreaker and I, Zombie to the fun variants of Whack-a-Mole (Whack-a-Zombie) and Bejeweled (Beghouled). The many alternate modes of play show a real breadth of creativity while the increasing complexity of Adventure Mode shows off the depth of the game’s design, culminating in a sweet, sweet boss battle and an insanely catchy music video. Not since Inland Empire has anything ended with a song & dance sequence this fan-freaking-tastic.
The sound effects are downright delightful: flaming peas, crackling ice, the zombie’s groans for brains, the pop of a decapitated foe, the pthunk of a road cone helmet, and the whoosh of a destructive Jalapeno. Equally appealing are the various facial expressions: the cheery Sunflowers, the stoic Tall-nuts, the placid Lily Pads, the grim Squash, the ominous Tangle Kelp, and those bug-eyed raging Jalapenos.
In between battles, be sure to check out the Almanac: not since the heyday of Homestar Runner have I seen such a collection of delightfully random humor. And when the fighting’s done, you can chill out with the plants you’ve collected for your Zen Garden (which, after fending off hordes of undead, genuinely lives up to its name).
Does it have cons? Sure: the shop’s prices are absurd, the secret “modes” add little to gameplay, and the Zen Garden (for all its zen) is literal farming – you water, fertilize, bug-spray, and serenade your plants for handfusl of reciprocated coins. But these are minor imperfections: parasitic insects easily flicked off of the many healthy branches sprouting from the colossal metaphorical tree that is this game.
As always, don’t knock a game’s age if it’s still a great play. I would gush further, but I see that my perfect row of Snow Peas is under attack by a zombie riding a pogo stick. If you’ll excuse me …