Developer: PopCap
Price: Free
Version: 1.0.226789
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★★
Playtime Rating: ★★★★★
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Game development is a fickle business. One day a studio is the talk of the industry and the next it’s scrambling to save face. Rarely is a team able to attain success and remain a darling of both the press and gamers alike. PopCap is one of the exceptions to the rule that somehow manage to impress, no matter what the obstacle. Their newest offering, Plants vs. Zombies 2, could put all of their hard-earned credibility on the chopping block by opting to implement a free-to-play monetization structure. Does the freemium model suit the franchise, or is this an unnecessary stir of the pot?

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It somewhat goes without saying that the long-awaited sequel to PopCap’s smash hit is more than just a bit overdue. Heck, the developer even went as far as to title the game Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time. Thankfully, it looks like the extra time (4 years since its original release, to be exact) has been put to good use. Seasoned veterans and newcomers alike will find a bounty of reasons to enjoy this most recent outing, striking a successful balance between proven mechanics and tweaks to the existing formula.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Like many of the studio’s prior sequels, it plays more like an expansion pack than a legitimate second whack at the brand; and that is not a bad thing. What made the original game so great was the approachable mechanics that only through extended play sessions revealed a deep attention to tuning and balance. The major difference is that this time around the player is following Crazy Dave in his time-traveling motor home as he attempts to go back in time and re-eat a taco that he had just finished eating. Apparently that was a REALLY great taco. Good to see that he is living up to his name.

As opposed to using rolling stages, worlds are broken up into a series of individual levels. Completing each level unlocks either a new plant or perk for the player to add to their proverbial flowerpot. There are at least ten base levels in each world that cost nothing out of pocket to explore. Once all of the main path has been cleared, the portal to the next world is open, but as is usually the case with free-to-play titles, there is a catch. In order to move on, enough stars must be earned in order to unlock the portal. Stars are earned by re-playing the base levels three separate times, with each playthrough providing a different set of challenges. Of course, there is also the option to pony up cash in order to progress, but why do that when the new challenges are so fun to play on their own?

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In addition to the base suite of levels in each world, there are additional challenge stages, seeds, and perks that can be found behind locked doors. Keys needed to crack the locks are dropped by zombies throughout the campaign, so be sure to keep an eye out. Once again, it isn’t necessary to have all of the keys in order to open a door, as long as one is willing to dip into their wallet, but frankly, they are dropped frequently enough that it may be better to just be patient and attentive while replaying stages. These extra challenges tend to test the player’s wits more than the core suite, so it is probably a good thing that they reside safely behind lock and key.

While traveling through time, the front yard that everyone had grown to know and love gives way to the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the gangplanks of a pirate cove, and the frontiers of the wild west. There is also a futuristic silhouette on the world select screen that may be alluding to upcoming expansions that are in the pipeline. Each era has an art style all its own, and just as one would expect, slight modifications to the mechanics change gameplay just enough to keep the audience on their toes. That said, whether the zombies are dressed as pirates, mummies, or countless other charming permutations, the standard walker is still just a re-skin of the character that everyone enjoys.

The biggest change to the actual strategy is the inclusion of one time use power-ups. These items are purchased using the in-game currency and consist of being able to electrocute zombies at a single touch and/or finger slide, the ability to double flick handfuls of enemies off screen simultaneously, or pinching to pop the heads off of zombie hordes. Using these modifiers are expensive, but if used intelligently they can make the difference between crushing defeat or narrow victory.

IMG_0595Somehow Plants vs. Zombies 2 manages to blur the lines between free and paid content to the point that the two tiers are nearly indistinguishable. The main difference comes down to the time investment necessary on the player’s part. Really, those that are hardcore fans of the series would be going back to play all of the challenge levels anyway. It only makes sense that the star unlocks and key drops further incentivize the replayability and minimize expense to the dedicated player.

During the review playthrough, Plants vs. Zombies 2 provided over seven hours of gameplay, without a single dime being spent. Better yet, there was still plenty of content still waiting to be unlocked. Completionists are in trouble, because this title will consume their life. PopCap rolled the dice in a big way when they moved to free-to-play. Fortunately, their risk paid dividends for all involved. Even the undead should have this installed on every iOS device they own, because it is a no-brainer.


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