There's never a good time to mess with my lawn!
I never thought I’d ever play a cartoony zombie-game that takes place on a lawn for more hours than I did Skyrim, but the original Plants Vs. Zombies sucked me in and spit me out like a green pea at high speed. I own the game on more platforms than I care to admit, and I still can’t get the soundtrack out of my head. A sequel for the game, originally launched in 2009, has been long overdue, and now that it’s out on the AppStore, exclusive to iOS, it really is about time.
In fact, the subtitle "It’s About Time" is a double entendre. I’ve been dying for more PvZ—that much is true—but the game’s plot features Crazy Dave and his talking time machine as they, during the opening scenes, travel across the ages in search of a delicious taco that he already ate in present day. It’s nonsense, sure, but they don’t call him Crazy Dave for nothin’. This time, Crazy Dave has a lot more dialogue through hilariously clever writing, adding to the overall charm that PvZ2 brings to the table.
If you recall, in the first game, Crazy Dave sold you plant-related goods from the back of his truck. This is no longer the case, because the game relies on a free-to-play model using in-game currency or coins in combination with real cold, hard cash. This is a scary proposition at first, especially when considering that PopCap is now owned by EA, a company that is notorious for pushing microtransactions, but there is a big difference between pushing and forcing them on you. Fortunately, Plants Vs. Zombies 2 shines as a free-to-play game by making them an option should you so choose.
Coins are earned relatively easily through regular gameplay; zombies drop them and each lawnmower left at the end of a level gives you some coins. Coins purchase plant food that act as power-ups for individual plants and touch-enabled Finger Power boosts that can save you in a pinch. These power-ups aren’t necessary to win, though they certainly make the time you'll have much easier.
Everything else—including some premium plants, additional starting sun, or large packs of coins—must be purchased with real money. As tempting as some of these premium items are, none of them are necessary to complete the game or just have a good time. However, a couple of the classic plants (there are some new ones too) from the first game such as the squash, the pepper, or my favorite, the imi-tater, are paid-only, making the lure to spend $2.99 that much more enticing. PopCap has managed to strike a perfect balance between being able to enjoy the entirety of the game for free and making what premium items are available alluring enough for someone invested in the game to consider buying. Best of all, there aren’t any annoying pop-ups prodding you to make a purchase.
The gameplay itself doesn’t stray very far from that of the original, only adding new plants to your arsenal to square off against new zombie types that fit the theme of whatever era in time Crazy Dave travels to in his quest for diarrhea. Where you are in time also affects the layout of a level, switching up the strategy needed to win. For example, Ancient Egypt features graves that block peas from reaching advancing undead, and in the Wild West, there are mine carts with tracks. You can’t plant on the tracks, but planting in the mine cart allows you to move the cart along the tracks. This allows you to have one pea shooter that you can use across all five spaces, but at the loss of four additional pea shooters. Overall, the difficulty level is quite high compared to the previous game, often tempting you to use power-ups which cost coins.
New plants are nowhere near as memorable as the original set, with the only worthy additions being the bonk choy and iceberg lettuce. Sadly, the soundtrack is also nowhere as memorable as the first title, which is a major disappointment. Most of the tracks are “remixed” versions of classic PvZ tracks slightly altered to fit whatever theme of that era. The music has lost its magic, unfortunately. However, the new zombie types are both challenging and unforgettable, more so than the original cast of comedic corpses.
Level progression is completely different, with a sprawling map for each themed point in time. Across the map you collect stars for each stage you finish, allowing you to progress further into the game. Some branches of the map are locked off, requiring keys that are randomly dropped by zombies. Along some of these paths, both the main one and those locked away, additional plants and challenges that teach you how to utilize each new plant effectively can be discovered.
Painfully absent from PvZ2 are the unlockable mini-games, like survival and puzzle modes. I absolutely loved this aspect of the original, so the fact that it's missing from this total package is a shame. I’d have even paid a premium for these mini-games if the option was there. Instead, there is only a mediocre challenge mode where you must choose one plant card out of three randomly drawn and then apply them to a tower-like progression until you lose all your lawnmowers. It acts as an easy way to add more coins to your piggy bank but misses all the charm and fun those mini-games provided.
This is partly due to the fact Plants Vs. Zombies 2 doesn’t actually end once all levels have been beaten. Being a free-to-play game, PopCap wants to keep players interested for a long time coming, so once everything has been completed in Ancient Egypt, Pirate Seas, and Wild West, you can see three question marks over the shadow of another futuristic-looking level with zombie-aliens.
Like any free-to-play game, Plants Vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time will continuously evolve as a product. It still remains to be seen how PopCap will handle upcoming levels, more new plants, additional modes, and whether or not they'll be free or premium content. What is included now, however, is the same classic and fun tower-defense gameplay with charming and creative plant-based weapons defending against adorable and hilarious zombies. PopCap struck the right balance by making it actually free all the way through, with the premium items being both tempting and at the same time not absolutely necessary. Plants Vs. Zombies 2 is free and endlessly enjoyable, so there’s no reason at all not to try it out yourself. All you risk is getting hooked and maybe spending a few bucks.