Review: Plants Vs Zombies 2

David Phelan explores the world of zombies, explosive potatoes and in-app purchases

When Plants Vs Zombies was released in 2009, it was an instant and long-running hit. As games go, this is what’s categorised as in the Tower Defence genre where enemies relentlessly attack your home, castle or tower.

The twist here was that there were five or six rows of lawn down which the undead would trundle, seeking to invade your house and devour your brains. The sunlight that blessed the ground would generate sunshine in carefully placed sunflowers. And this became a currency for buying plants. These would shoot peas or hurl boomerangs with wall-buts that worked as barriers and potatoes that exploded like land mines. All to keep the zombies out. As they plodded down the path, projectiles would debilitate them until they literally fell apart, though some clever zombies had taken the precaution of wearing traffic cones as hats, which made them impervious to harm for much longer. Obviously.

It was a simple formula, made utterly addictive and engrossing because of keen strategic concerns: plant too few sunflowers and you couldn’t afford to replace the plants as the zombies ate them. Plant the exploding spud too late and it would be eaten before it could arm itself. Lots of levels, increasingly powerful zombies and a growing range of plants made for a cracking game, with a real adrenalin rush as the final waves of zombies poured down the lawn.

The game was a consistent success for publishers PopCap and the only frustration was that gamers wanted more.

So finally – FINALLY – the sequel appeared on the iPhone and iPad App Stores a few days ago. Echoing the thoughts of many gamers, the subtitle to Plants Vs Zombies 2 is “It’s About Time”. Unlike the first title, this one is free, but PopCap’s coffers will likely be replenished thanks to the numerous in-app purchases available.

Not least, you can top up your reserves of coins, normally won at the end of each level, by buying coins. Since each level awards just 100 coins, with occasional extras for dispatching zombies quickly, and since the main way to spend these coins is to activate special powers so you can briefly electrocute all the zombies on screen, you’ll need these coins. And since the cheapest of these special powers costs 800 coins, topping up is a given. You can also unlock worlds, get extra plant types and other upgrades. Buying 10,000 coins costs £2.99, though you might be surprised how quickly you can burn through these.

The plot meaning of “It’s About Time” is that Crazy Dave, the frankly nutso neighbour from the first game is transported back in time to find his missing taco by a time-travelling camper van. I think I’ve got that right. Anyway, it means that the modern day lawn is replaced in turn by stones outside a pharaoh’s tomb, the deck of a pirate ship and the Wild West.

Each location has its own special zombies – a walking sarcophagus with a mummified creature inside, a honky-tonk player who causes the zombies to swap lanes, and a pirate who is carried aloft by a seagull, for instance.

And there’s more variety thanks to levels where the game assigns which plants you can use, or sets challenges such as not having more than 10 plants at a time or keeping the zombies from trampling the flowers.

Sometimes the challenge is too great but the joy is you can play each level until you make it through, or resort to those special powers if you really can’t.

A futuristic world is in the offing, which will be handy when you’ve exhausted the current ones but there are plenty of these. And repeat playing of individual levels can be satisfying. For instance, a yeti (wearing a fez) occasionally materialises somewhere in the game and if you defeat him, there’s a prize.

But it’s the core gaming which is the most compelling and it’s absolutely as addictive as ever. It looks great, is finely tuned to keep you from giving up and has enough novelty features to delight players for a long time.