Review: Plants vs. Zombies (iPhone)

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There are all sorts of games: big games, small games; casual games, hardcore games; console games, handheld games; role-playing games, shooter, games, action games, sports games; old games, new games; kids games, adult games; thrilling games, boring games; good games, and bad games. And then there is Plants vs. Zombies!

How is THAT for an overly dramatic beginning?!?

Fact is, last May Matt and I gushed about the PC and Mac versions of PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies, one of the most interesting and fun entries ever made in the resurgent tower defense genre. Here are a couple of quotes:

Matt: I definitely agree that this game is loaded with replayability. Games in the casual/budget market generally get away with skimping on play modes, but not here. With Plants vs. Zombies, PopCap has really set a benchmark for how much content can be stuffed into a casual/budget game without jacking up the price — it’s $20 on both PC and Mac through PopCap, and even cheaper at only $10 on Steam. The Adventure mode is long and addictive enough to warrant those prices alone, so the fact that you get so many extras to unlock makes this pretty much a no-brainer of a purchase.

Mike: In an era of a constant stream of $60 games that last four hours and offer me-too multiplayer, Plants vs. Zombies offers an amazing value: hours of core gameplay, loads of added content, tons of reasons to keep coming back for more, and Crazy Dave! I liken this to Portal … but better! Not that the core game is necessarily better than Portal, but because it offers a wonderfully addictive experience that won’t be over in a few short hours.

You can read our review for more, but you get the gist. Late last summer PopCap announced they were bringing the game to the iPhone and XBLA (a PSN version is also likely). While the release was delayed a couple of times, it has finally arrived on the iTunes App store for the budget price of $2.99.

The good thing about looking at iPhone ports of existing games is there are fewer things to evaluate: some are like GTA: Chinatown Wars where I was left to nitpick graphics details and control minutia; others are like Beaterator where I was pondering what happened to the rest of the application! So my concerns are content, quality of port, performance, controls, and stability.

The last one is easy: stability, even on the 1.0 release version, is perfect. I have been playing way too much since getting the game, short and long sessions, stopping mid-stream, synchronizing, and so on – and every time the game comes back right where I left it and runs perfectly.

I was also concerned about the controls. The original was mouse-driven, and the game felt pretty small on my iPod Touch screen from the very first level, with the various seed packets and squares of land barely larger than a fingertip. I was concerned that when the pace got more frenetic inaccuracy would become an issue. Yet I never chose the wrong seed type, and never mis-tapped the space I wanted to plant. The only mistake I ever had was trying to plant somewhere when a sun crossed the space, requiring me to tap again to plant. I was very pleasantly surprised by this!

As for performance, I think THIS is where my first-generation iPod Touch is showing its age: when the screen filled up with my plants and there was a massive zombie onslaught, things definitely got sluggish. Fortunately it impacted everything equally, so I just had to pace myself to get through. It was never severe, but it was clearly struggling to keep the screen refreshed. From what I have heard from those with the newest iPhone and iPod Touch, the slowdown isn’t an issue with the faster processor.

The one area where there is some concern is with content. The ‘main adventure’ is present in its entirety, from Crazy Dave to all of the excellent night and pool and roof levels from the original. When you complete the adventure you can enter quick-play mode and just choose anything you want to replay. Missing content includes all of the mini-games such as Wall-Nut Bowling; the Puzzle Mode comprised of a series of smaller challenges; Survival Mode which, as it sounds, is just an endless onslaught of zombies; and the tranquil Zen Garden. Perhaps they will add these later in a patch or as in-game purchases … we can only hope!

I definitely rank Plants vs. Zombies as one of my favorite games of 2009, and with this new release it has become one of my ‘must have’ games for the iPhone / iPod Touch. There is a single difficulty, which is not overly taxing for anyone familiar with the genre, and the missing content means that the game is unlikely to provide months of time-sink opportunities like it did on PC/Mac. But it remains at its core an immensely fun and satisfying experience that will fill your hours with loads of zombie-destroying fun!

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Pros:
+ Nicely adapted controls
+ Loads of replayability
+ Budget pricing

Cons:
– Mini-games and other side modes are absent
– Every wave tends to start the same way
– Eventually, if you don’t eat, you will die

Game Info:
Platform: iPhone and iPod Touch
Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: PopCap Games
Release Date: 2/15/2010
Genre: Tower Defense Strategy
ESRB Rating: 9+ (iTunes App Store games not ESRB rated)
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!