The Plants vs. Zombies IP is a particularly interesting case. After creating one of the biggest casual hits of all time in 2009, Popcap kind of just sat on the property, keeping quiet about future plans despite its popularity. Well here we are in 2013, and there are at least two PvZ games on the way -- Adventures, and Plants vs. Zombies 2.
I must warn you, Adventures is a social game made exclusively for Facebook. No, this isn't the full sequel you've been wanting for years, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth your time.
Plants vs. Zombies Adventures (Facebook)
Release: May 20, 2013
MSRP: Free (with microtransactions)
The first thing you might notice about Adventures is that it features a city-building aspect, albeit on a very small scale. You'll start off in your tiny town, with one house to your name, as you wait at intervals for the house to "fill up" with Coins, so you can buy plants on go on missions.Yep, right away the game introduces an "energy" mechanic that so many of us loathe in social games -- but I'll explain why it isn't the worst thing the world in a moment.
As you start to complete each set of stages, you'll unlock more quadrants in your town to expand upon, and thus, more room for buildings, which means more Coins, and so on. Your hub world basically serves as your interactive zen garden, as it hosts everything you'll need to actually keep playing the game. You'll grow plants here (for a Coin fee), and each plant has a waiting time (from one minute to over an hour) depending on how strong it is. The good news is for the most part, the bulk of the plants you'll need (the standard Peashooter, the long range Aspearagus and the sun garnering Sunflowers) only take a few minutes tops to grow, and cost a minimal amount of coins.
This could just be a time sink that influences you to make real world purchases to keep playing, but Adventures actually lets you do a few things that keep the fun going outside of decorating your town. Mostly, you have the option to defend your houses from invading zombies, as well as visit other friend's towns and invade them with your own chosen set of enemies. While you ultimately still have to wait a while to earn Coins to buy plants to actually go on missions, you can mess around on these side excursions as you wait, which helps.
Okay, so you hate the idea of tending to a town -- what about actually playing the game? Adventures is not a classic PvZ experience -- it plays out more like a classic isometric tower defense "world tour," as you progress level by level, unlocking new plants as you tend to your town meta-game. It's more simplistic in the sense that you can't create "mazes" and only set plants beside roads, but there's still a decent amount of strategy to it. Plus, the basic PvZ experience is still present, in that you need to build Sunflowers to earn Sun currency to place more plants on the map.
Specifically, you cannot bring more than five of each plant type with you, and you can only bring six plants total -- so in a sense, the game forces you to pick the optimal loadout for each map. It's a double-edged sword, as it offers a neat way to challenge you, but can feel restrictive. The layouts for each stage tend to showcase a decent amount of variety at first, but after a while, some of the stages tend to blend together.
Where the game's strategy element really shines though is through the use of "sprays," enacted by clicking on certain objects in combat. It sounds like a small addition, but the ability to both spray your own plants to power them up or spray enemies to freeze them for a few seconds is huge. At the cost of 25 sun, you have the power to do either function, and it can absolutely make or break a run.
Many times I've stopped an enemy right at a choke-point at the exact right moment, or failed to boost a plant that had an enemy go just out of their range, only to lose the round. While placing towers in the right areas is still a major part of the strategy, there is a twitch element to it, and I really like that -- it also allows you to do something when you've already planted everything, which keeps you in the action.
There are microtransactions, but I haven't really felt like they were necessary, and I never once hit a pay-wall in all of my travels. The major issue instead is wait-walling (massive amounts of wait-walling if you just want to do missions, as most of you will), as you have to wait to earn Coins, wait for plants to grow, and repeat the process as you run out of towers to place. Zombucks (earned through beating levels, they allow you to fix up your town and invade others), Coins (earned through farming buildings, which buys you plants), and Gems, which are the strictly real-money currency that can be used to buy either of the former currencies.
Although Adventures sleazily tries to get you to buy and spend gems at every turn, even going so far as allowing you to buy "that one last extra difference making plant" in the middle of a stage -- again, they're not really required for the most part, as you can still get through the game with a solid mix of basic plants, and a few advanced ones. In what could have been a really annoying sleazy addition, you need to seek the help of friends to enter the next world (thus propagating the cult-like "conversion" factor that hurts the integrity of many social games) -- but thankfully, you can pay a nominal Zombucks fee to just skip the process entirely, making friends a mostly optional endeavor.
Plants vs. Zombies Adventures is fairly inoffensive fun, and serves as the appetizer to PvZ 2's main course. The implementation of sprays makes combat a bit more interactive, and there's a decent variety of plants to keep your strategy liquid. It could stand to implement a more forgiving energy mechanic, but unlike many other social games, it at least gives you something to do while you wait.
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