The original Plants Vs Zombies ended up being one of the best portable games around. With a ton of levels there was a huge amount of value to the low price. The sequel has gone in a curiously different route to the original, which is to say the game is entirely free.
Okay, so free is an overstatement. Many video games lately are experimenting with free to play, a term that essentially means it’s free to get in but you’ll be charged for extra content. So let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: do you need to pay to play the entirety of Plants Vs Zombies 2? No.The in-game shop offers players the rather pricey options of upgrades or extra plants. Although they make levels easier, I never once felt like I needed them. Meaning if you want it to be, Plants vs Zombies 2 is completely free without any crippling restrictions.
Thankfully PopCap resisted the urge to monetize other elements of the game. You’ll never be told to wait before playing the next level because of some irritating energy meter, or be stuck with no option but to pay for the next bit of content. If you want to play the whole game to completion in one sitting then you’re welcome to go for it.
Let’s get down to the gameplay. To those familiar with the original game the basics are exactly the same. You put down sunflowers to generate sunlight, which you spend to place down offensive and defensive plants that will stop the zombies from getting to your house on the left side of the screen. Levels range from being very straightforward to actually quite tricky, although things never really get too difficult. Luckily the game still allows you to experiment with different combinations of plants and there’s no single set way to complete a level. If you fail miserably then it’s just a matter of hitting retry to give it another go. Since levels are still only a handful of minutes long any loss only feels like a minor setback.
The twist to the game time is time travel. The first world in the game, of which there are currently three altogether, is ancient Egypt. Meaning you’ll be fighting zombie mummies and other Egyptian themed opponents. Some of the zombies are simply harder to kill and will shamble away towards you as usual, while others have their own unique powers that shake things up. For instance in Egypt you’ll see Anubis looking zombies that toss out gravestones onto the grid, which create barriers that most plants can’t shoot through. The remaining two worlds contain their own twists that match their particular setting too, meaning each world has its own unique challenges.
Rather than proceed from level to level in a linear fashion there’s an overworld map where you pick which level you want to play next. Most of the time you’re moving in a straight direction but occasionally the path will branch off, blocked by a locked door you’ll have to spend keys to access these extra levels. Keys are obtained as a dropped item when playing levels, or alternatively can be purchased for a fee. I found I obtained keys at a rate where I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment at obtaining them but I never felt compelled to purchase any out of frustration.
As well as replaying levels just for fun you can replay them to earn a better star rating. Extra stars are earned by completing objectives which differ depending on the level chosen. Objectives range from finishing a level by spending only a limited number of sunlight, to creative changes like matching up hidden symbols that zombies are carrying before they can reach you. It keeps the gameplay fresh and provides a welcome break from the standard levels. Additionally earned stars are used to unlock the next world, so you’ll have to try your hand at a few if you want to progress as just reaching the end in a direct manner won’t net you enough.
Coins make a return, albeit in a new fashion. Coins are now used to buy powerups which take effect immediately. The powers are actually shockingly effective and can be used to clear an entire screen of zombies in one move. It’s good that they’re quite expensive as it reduces the urge to bust them out as soon as anything difficult happens. But it’s unusual that any threatening final wave of zombies can be safely dismissed by activating the electric power and just swiping away across the screen.
Graphically the game has had a little bit of a makeover with the cartoon stylisation cranked up compared to the first game. There’s a level of amusing detail in almost every aspect of the game too, a giant zombie skull chomps down on a wrecked ship in the background of the pirate level, while a zombie sphinx towers over the Egyptian map. These little touches all contribute to the charming and humorous tone.
Meanwhile the music is a perfect match as the theme whimsically matches whatever particular world you’re playing at the time. It adds to the feeling that you’re playing a totally different chapter. The energetic banjos of the final cowboy levels create a radically different sound than the soft piano notes played during Egypt.
All of this combines to create a game that deserves being a full sequel to the fantastic original, this isn’t simply an add-on disguised as a follow-up. The use of a map, with the choice to go back to earlier levels, adds a lot of replay value to the title and the smart choices regarding the shop mean you pay however much you’re comfortable paying, be that £1.50, £5.50 or absolutely nothing. The core gameplay is addictive and fun and there’s plenty to get at, if you own an iOS device there’s no reason not to try it out.
Reviewed on a 4th generation iPad.