Now over a year since the first release of PopCap’s take on tower defense, Plants vs. Zombies has arrived on the Xbox 360. Destructoid gave that game a perfect score and I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you’re unfamiliar with the basics of Plants vs. Zombies, I’ll refer you to that review as this one will be focused entirely on what separates the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game from the original.
All of the content from the first release is present in this port. The complete Adventure is here, along with all of the Puzzle and Survival stages and all but one of the original Mini-Games. Just as before, these become unlocked through the course of the Adventure along with the Zen Garden and Shop.
Plants vs. Zombies (XBLA)
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games
Released: September 7, 2009
MSRP: 1200 MS Points
The biggest difference between the Xbox Live Arcade port of Plants vs. Zombies and previous releases lies within the core of its gameplay. Point-and-click style mouse cursors long being the bane of console gamers, transitioning to a controller meant changing the way in which players collect sunlight and position plants. Using the playfield’s grid design to their advantage the XBLA cursor encompasses entire squares at once, popping from one to the next with movement of the left analog stick or directional-pad.
I’m pleased to say that both control methods work well and serve different purposes. Moving the cursor with the analog stick is smooth with just a bit of grab as it leaves grid spaces. Using the d-pad allows you to pop from one square to the next with a quick — and surprisingly accurate — tap of the cross.
Instead of having to click on every bit of sun which appears in the playfield, PopCap has implemented and elegant solution in which sun is attracted to the cursor from several squares away and collected upon contact. Additional streamlining comes from plant selection, which now finds your cursor ever ready to plant a seed of your choice, selected by the left and right bumpers. Removing plants from the field is achieved by holding the B button over a plant until a meter fills, just to make certain you’re taking the action you want.
The result is a much faster but less hectic game. With the analog cursor able to sweep the yard and collect everything which comes remotely close to it, significantly less pressure is put on the player making this the easiest way to get through a zombie home invasion yet.
The new control scheme is not without its flaws. Certain stages in Plants vs. Zombies where your plants come from packets collected on the lawn, such as the Vasebreaker puzzles, just don’t work as well here. The cursor automatically selects a seed packet for planting when it passes over one, but there’s no convenient way to switch other than to pass over a different seed packet. It’s a minor quibble about a small section of the game, but it does serve to demonstrate the difficulty in adapting a proven control scheme to a new platform.
It’s for this reason, I suspect, that “It’s Raining Seeds” — a mini-game stage in which seed packets fall from the sky — is absent from this release. In its place is a game based upon the XBLA-exclusive Heavy Weapon series which turns a lawnmower which fires peas at zombies from the bottom of the lawn with dual-stick shooting controls.
Multiplayer has been implemented for the first time in Plants vs. Zombies, though it’s limited to local play only. The entire single-player campaign can now be played cooperatively with a simple drop-in system. The second player has access to everything player one does, able to collect sun and money as well as place plants. Adding a buddy also bestows the ability to use butter on troublesome zombies who might be reaching your defensive line early than you’d like, making things a little bit easier on disorganized partners.
As you might expect, having a second player changes the dynamics of the game considerably. Having to communicate and implement a plan with a teammate offers its own challenges, depending on the person you have to play with but two people working in sync can utterly dominate most of the game’s challenges. To that end, a co-op survival mode is also available which really puts the screws to players looking to double-team the undead.
A competitive multiplayer mode is also present, with one player defending their house from the other player’s zombies. As per the standard game, the zombies win if they can get one of their own past the lawn defenses and into the house. The defending player wins if they can kill three of the target-holding zombies on the far end of the lawn.
Games in this mode begin with players taking turns selecting plants and zombies — including flag-bearing zombies which lead waves of undead into battle — to be used in the match. Most of the game’s zombies and plants are available for use, offering a wide variety of potential combinations to be employed and a ton of strategic options.
Playing as the zombies is not all that different in its base mechanics from using plants. Gravestones replace sunflowers as a resource generator, releasing brains at intervals. Brains can then be spent putting zombies onto the lawn and laying additional gravestones (which also act as a line of defense for your target zombies).
For all its humor, endless replay value and subtle, accessible strategy, it’s no wonder that Plants vs. Zombies remains one of the best games to come out of the casual gaming market. The Xbox Live Arcade version is a capable port which carries across the fun of the title brilliantly. If you’ve been waiting for the game to arrive on a console before taking the leap, you will not be disappointed. Similarly, if you have already played the game on another platform, there’s still plenty to love in this release though you would be justified in skipping it if you have nobody to play with.
Score: 9.5 — Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won’t cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)