Console gamers who have somehow missed out on the addiction that is Plants vs. Zombies now have no excuse. PopCap Games' wildly popular tower-defense title has landed on the Xbox 360. For newcomers, Plants vs. Zombies will probably be an amazing experience. However, those who have already played it on another platform might find this version slightly disappointing.
Stuck in the middle of a zombie invasion, players must protect their houses (and their brains) from the undead by planting cute, but violent plants in the front yard, the back yard, and on the roof. The game is laid out on a 5x9 grid, and only one plant may be placed per square. The mechanics are rather simple to learn, but will take some time to fully master. The game features a large variety of zombie types, and different environments that present unique challenges, such as a pool and a curved roof.
Taking a game that was designed to be controlled with a mouse and moving it to a console controller was something that many gamers were concerned about. Fortunately, PopCap has done a very impressive job. While players might not be able to harvest sunlight and plant as fast as in other versions, it doesn't hurt the game. The 360 controller's bumpers cycle through seeds, the 'A' button plants, the 'B' button shovels, and the triggers suck in the sunlight. The left analog stick controls the cursor, which moves around the screen as smooth and quick as if you were using a mouse.
PopCap has added two new modes to the 360 version of Plants vs. Zombies: Cooperative and Versus. Unfortunately, players will have to complete a significant portion of the single player Adventure Mode to unlock these game types. It's frustrating, but it will give you time to get acclimated to the new controls.
In the Cooperative mode, each player chooses unique seeds, and sunlight is not shared. Communication and teamwork are a must. One player may have to plant a wall to stall the zombies, while the other collects sunlight to set up an attacking plant. New to this mode is the ability to launch butter at zombies, which freezes them in place. The collaboration required by Co-op Mode makes for a surprisingly entertaining and intense experience in the later stages of the game.
In Versus Mode, one player controls the zombies and the other player controls the plants. The plants' objective is to destroy three targets held by the zombies, while the zombies' goal remains reaching the other player’s house. Zombies need to collect brains, which appear just like sunlight, and can build gravestones, which block shots fired by the plants. This mode is a blast. While plants have slight advantage over zombies, matches can be long and intense.
Eventually, the game will declare Sudden Death, at which point plants will no longer be able to grow new sunflowers, and zombies will no longer be able to build gravestones. Once this happens, the game really picks up, particularly for the zombie team. Zombies must manage attacks while constantly sending in cannon fodder zombies to absorb the plant's shots and prevent the targets from being destroyed. Winning as the zombies in this situation is extremely satisfying.
Both new modes are extremely fun and worthy additions to the game, though it's disappointing that they must be unlocked and are limited to local play. Just like Scott Pilgrim and Shank, Plants vs. Zombies would definitely have benefited from online play.
Graphically, the game is a let down. The graphics in the Xbox 360 version appear to have been ported from the iPhone and blown up to fit HD screens. The actual gameplay grid is very small, with a large border that shows the house or a large bush. The text in the game is small, and the tiny level progression bar can barely be seen, even on a 47 inch 1080P display. This had potential to be a fantastic looking version of PvZ, with super high res art. Instead, it looks like a quick, lazy port.
If you have ever played Plants vs. Zombies before, you already know how catchy the music is. If not, you're in for a treat. All the tunes are here, along with the unmistakable plant sounds. Unlike the graphics, the audio presentation hasn’t lost anything in the journey to consoles.
In the end, Plants vs. Zombies is a mixed bag. On one hand, the poor graphics and lack of online play are major disappointments. On the other hand, the game is still a blast to play, and there is a lot of content, including mini games, puzzles, and survival modes. If you have never played Plants vs. Zombies before, you will probably have a great time with the game. If you have already played a previous version to death (and don’t care for multiplayer), you may want knock one star off the rating and steer clear.
Plants vs. Zombies is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 ($15) Microsoft Points.