That pleasant aroma wafting through the summer air is not, as you may expect, vegetables. That would unquestionably be appropriate for a game like Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time, which returns us after four years to the universe of that wacky garden patch that’s the only thing standing between humanity and undead annihilation. But no, the smell that surrounds PopCap’s sequel to its 2009 smash hit is something more like candy—Candy Crush Saga, that is. Plants vs. Zombies 2 has adopted that ultra-popular game’s “free-to-play” aesthetic wholeheartedly, and turned in commensurate results. If you loved the first Plants vs. Zombies, more than enough is right with this one to all but guarantee you’ll respond to it, too. But the pleas for money and a few other small adjustments dilute an almost perfect casual gaming experience into one that’s just a little overripe.
Back to Basics
The basics of Plants vs. Zombies 2 are identical to those of the previous game. Zombies are shambling from the right side of the playing field to the left, and it’s up to you to stop them by any vegetal means necessary. Sunflowers (which emit the sun you use to acquire plants) are essentially required, but everything else is optional: You can choose from Peashooters to cover long distances in a straight line; Cabbage-pults, which can launch big heads of ammo over many squares; Wall-nuts, which provide armored protection; and many more. The zombies may appear plain, arrive armored (with buckets on their heads, or maybe carrying shields and other objects), set fires, or cause other kinds of mischief, but once you’ve stopped them, you’ve won—and can move on to the next level.
It’s worth noting that, unlike the original Plants vs. Zombies, which was available on a wide array of devices, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is an iOS-only exclusive. I played it on a Retina display–equipped Apple iPad, but if you prefer gaming on a PC or Android device, you’re out of luck for now.
Though the art and music remain delightful accompaniments, and have received only gentle tweaks, in some ways Plants vs. Zombies 2 diverges greatly from its predecessor. First, as the title suggests, time travel is involved: Your oddly minded ally from the first game, Crazy Dave, accidentally teleports you back centuries (on the search for a masterful taco—don’t ask) so you can battle in Ancient Egypt, the Pirate Seas, and the Wild West, with a futuristic setting also apparently in the works. This means you get the expected differences in visuals (for example, the lawnmowers, which provide a last-ditch line of defense once the zombies are about to overtake you, appear as little motorized pyramids in the Egypt levels), but not so much in game play: Fighting in King Tut’s backyard isn’t that much different than fighting in your own. Inherited from Angry Birds and other similar games are “stars,” which you receive for completion of a level within certain requirements (spend only a certain amount of sun, don’t lose more than two plants, and so forth), and more significantly a map that lets you easily move between levels and see how many stars you still need to acquire, and so on.
If these changes don’t affect the game much by themselves, together they give Plants vs. Zombies 2 a strong derivative feel. Whereas the original really was original, so altering the tower defense formula that it was all but unrecognizable, this one feels like most other games on the market, absent the freshness and individuality that so distinguished the first incarnation. Adding new plants is one thing—there are a number of fun ones, but I particularly loved the bonk choy, which can reach across two squares to continuously pound a brain-muncher—but watching my flora fight the zombies across the desert sands seemed unduly silly; and though there’s something strangely endearing about zombies sporting traffic cones for head protection or inflatable ducks for flotation, I never warmed quite the same way to the sight of one lumbering around while stuffed in a sarcophagus.
All the other new game-play elements also make things feel busier than they should. I didn’t want to accidentally tap the counter of coins (distributed at the end of level, and used for buying power ups) when trying to plant a Potato Mine, or activate swiping gestures (available for only 800-1,200 coins each!) while trying to collect another couple of doses of sun. I just wanted to play the game, and the added filigree made that difficult at times.
Candy Crush Commerce
As for the paid upgrades, getting all the new plants will currently only run you about $20—the price of the original game. For another $14 you can get all the upgrade bonuses (more sun when shoveling, more starting son, more Plant Food or seed slots). Or you can save some money through buying bundles, which combine certain plants and certain bonuses; all three of these will run you $22. Want to accelerate access to Pirate Seas before you’ve unlocked enough stars? Just $4.99 will get you there. You can also buy bags of coins (from $2.99 for 5,000 coins to $99.99 for 450,000) that you can then trade in for more Plant Foods or gesture usages. But PopCap doesn’t stop there: It also forces you to view frequent ads for your various possible purchases, in case you’ve forgotten or you really want to get 30 percent off your Jalapeno (one of the most useful plants, and a paid holdover from the first Plants vs. Zombies). This points up one of the biggest and most annoying problems with Plants vs. Zombies 2: It eventually gets too difficult to reasonably play (or play at all) without the use of the paid upgrades.
That’s the Candy Crush Saga business model, after all, and if Plants vs. Zombies 2 doesn’t get quite as shameless quite as quickly in begging for your cash, it won’t stay completely free for most people for long. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Quality is definitely worth paying for, as the original Plants vs. Zombies proved. And if you’re in the mood for more of the same, you’ll unquestionably get that here, if in a more piecemeal package. But rather than just build and expand lightly on what worked before, PopCap has played with the formula so much that sometimes you have to strain to see the charms that are still buried within.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc