We’ve waited patiently for a new Plants Vs. Zombies game, so it’s difficult to know whether the subtitle “It’s About Time” is a knowing nod to that fact, or a subtle dig at the player, as this new PvZ requires a fair amount of grinding, and feels slightly soulless when compared to the original. It’s about time indeed, Popcap.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, because this is still the same tower defence gameplay that works incredibly well; it still has an absolutely wonderful art style and suitably humorous audio design (I swear you can quite clearly hear that the Bloomerang sound is just some guy in front of a mic) – the trouble here, is that in an effort to try and make the in-app purchases less aggressive, less “pay to win” than in a lot of games, Popcap have introduced the idea of grinding, which stops the natural progression that made the original feel so damn good – and as such, that attempt fails.
If you’re of a suitably patient nature, you can (of course) finish PvZ 2 without ever needing to buy a single additional piece of content, so you may find that this being a free game is an absolute wonder. The trouble is that to do so will require repetition that will make question whether you’re actually having fun doing it.
Starting with the basic plants you’re used to (Sunflower, Pea-Shooter, etc) it all seems innocent enough – you’re even introduced to new plants along with the new ideas. But the new ideas are part of the problem, because everything else is pretty much spot on. Crazy Dave returns, and even has a new time-machine companion in the form of his talking RV. The story is simple: Dave has just eaten the most amazing Taco, and wants to eat it again. The easiest way (of course) is to travel back in time to do so.
One of the new mechanics is the simply-named “power-up”. These involve you literally touching the screen as a kind of “hand of God”. One allows you to pinch the oncoming Zombies, another to electrocute, and finally you can pick up and throw enemies off the screen. To unlock new worlds and areas, you’ll need to get stars, but you can’t get anywhere near enough in a single playthrough of an area, meaning you’ll need to grind the previous levels for more stars. In fact, getting to the second world (the Pirate themed one) was so exhausting a prospect, it took many hours to actually get there. An alternative is to use keys to unlock additional areas, but keys also require grinding previous levels.
Plant Food is a terrific addition, however, and can really spice things up if not abused. Dropped by glowing green Zombies (or bought via in-app purchases, of course) these can turn a regular plant into a super-plant for a few seconds. A sunflower will explode with light, or a pea shooter will suddenly become an automatic machine gun of death – it’s a great idea. Far from being a cheap tactic to get you to pay money, the glowing green Zombies actually seem to appear just before they are needed, which makes the levels feel a bit less random. This isn’t helped by the fact that when replaying earlier levels, the objective changes mean that after the first two times, you’ve already got your tactics down.
There’s plenty of challenge in It’s About Time, be it from the varied bonus levels (including returning classics like the conveyor belt levels), but these require keys to unlock, keys which you find by replaying previous levels with new objectives. At first it doesn’t seem too bad, but then doors require more and more keys, and the grinding rears its head again – though at least it’s not complete repetition thanks to those objective changes. Some will almost certainly be put off by the difficulty of some of the objectives, and they can be frustrating, tempting even the most staunch anti-IAP player to dip into their pockets.
VERDICT: Some will resent their favourite plants being locked out by a pay-wall, but in fairness you could pay £2-3 and rationalise it as paying for the game itself, as long as you don’t get drawn into buying more and more afterwards. Certain players won’t mind the repetition, though the difficulty may get them in the end, instead.
When it works, Plants Vs. Zombies 2 is a delight, and the in-app purchases nearly work, and are at least an interesting attempt at trying to do them in a slightly different way. Unfortunately, through a combination of grinding and an obvious clawing for your money, the wonderful character and soul from the previous game has been tarnished ever so slightly. Definitely play this one as soon as possible, but know that while some things are the same and PvZ is still one of the best casual (yet surprisingly deep) games on the market, some things have changed for good – and not for the better.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.