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Plants vs. Zombies for XBLA in depth review

Treading deep into PvZ
Treading deep into PvZ
Logo: Pop Cap Games

More than a billion PopCap titles have been downloaded in the last ten years by casual and hardcore gamers. These genius’s of crack-like addictive games are responsible for games such as Peggle, Zuma and Bejeweled.

Plants vs. Zombies, Popcap’s fastest and highest selling game, is a tower defense game first released on the PC in May 2009 and can now be found on almost every platform available. Well, Plants vs. Zombies is now available on Xbox Live Arcade with higher resolution graphics and small, new touches.


Back to Basics

Since Plants vs. Zombies was released over one year ago, I won’t get too specific with every detail, assuming you have played or at least hear about this game before. Here is PvZ in a nutshell: the game gives you plants to battle against waves of zombies as they jot across your lawn in hopes of getting into your house for some delicious brains. You decide what stands in their way, choosing from an arsenal of defensive and offensive plants.

These quirky plants vary from projectile peashooters, cabbage launchers, cherry bombs, and walnuts to temporarily shield a path. The catch is, planting costs sun points and in order to earn sun, you must plant sunflowers. Besides facing normal, slow moving zombies, you will be up against zombies wearing cones or buckets on their head for extra defense, football players, pole vaulters, disco dancers and more. Every zombie has different abilities, stats and weaknesses, so learning the game in and out is necessary. By the time the game starts getting repetitive, you have unlocked new plants, facing new zombies and switching up strategy in new environments. Pop Cap really are the masters of the human psyche, knowing you will spend countless hours collecting every plant, playing every level, and loving every minute of it. 

Now that you know the basics of Plants vs. Zombies, I would like to note that the point of this review not necessarily a critique on PvZ across all platforms. I have played almost every iteration of this game and I will tell you flat out, this game is almost perfect in my opinion. I would like to focus this review on how Pop Cap has taken a game, specifically designed for mouse and keyboard/touch-screen platforms and the changes that were made in order for the game to function with a controller and analog sticks/d-pad. I will also take a look at added features, not found in previous releases.


First Impressions
First off, Plants vs. Zombies on XBLA is the quickest loading and best looking version to date. The graphics have been scaled to look as good as possible for HD gaming on large screens. Unfortunately, the developers did not enlarge the text. This isn’t a huge problem, as the game does not rely heavily on text, but sitting at a normal amount of space away from my TV, I have to really focus to read it. Upon starting the game and getting past the tutorial levels, I noticed PvZ plays a little slower paced than previous versions. It seems Pop Cap has slowed the rate zombies spawn in order to make up for the extra time it takes to select and place plants, but not to the point that it feels different. The balancing is just right and the game is still brutal towards the end of adventure mode.


Creating PC controls for a console

Controls needed to be heavily reworked in order for this to function with a controller. If you have played previous versions, it feels a little awkward at the start, but quickly feels natural again. Your “mouse” cursor is controlled with the left analog stick and has a nice, solid flow of movement to it. Your cursor will snap to a square on the grid to ensure you get your plant in the intended spot on the field. You can also use the d-pad, which will toggle through the squares instead of a free flowing cursor. I found myself switching between the two in the middle of levels for when I wanted to get really precise with quick planting. No longer do you need to click on the sun and coins to collect them. To speed things up while using a controller, as long as you are in the general area of the sun/money, it will automatically float towards your cursor and collect it for you. This takes the stress off of managing these things, so that you can keep planting and focus on defending your lawn. It does take a little out of the game, but no big deal. “LB” and “RB” toggle between your seed packets on the top of the screen. It takes a little longer to scroll through all of your plants instead of just clicking on the one you are looking for, but you must realize a console controller is limited in this situation and Pop Cap does a great job making things feel natural with a controller. While the controls slow you down a bit, the game makes up time by allowing you to place your cursor on the spot you want to plant something, then scroll to your plant and place it as soon as your choice is made. I would constantly “queue” plants I wanted, but didn’t have enough sun for it yet by placing my cursor, then waiting until I had the sun and press “A” to quickly place the plant. The last thing that has changed control-wise, is digging. The shovel has been mapped to “B” so you can quickly dig up a plant, making room for a stronger one. When Plants vs. Zombies was first announced for XBLA, at first I went “YAY!” and then quickly “How are they gonna do that?!” After playing the full version, I can confidently say Pop Cap has pulled it off. They have done a superb job mapping PC/toucscreen controls to a console controller. Everything plays very fluid and when everything is going so smooth like that, those of the parts where the game is most fun.


I Hope You've Made Room For Desert

The game still comes with extra features such as mini-games, puzzles, survival and a plant garden outside of the game to collect money for use in game. Added modes for XBLA are co-op, versus mode and your own virtual house/lawn (shows off achievements). First off, let’s get it out of the way. A huge downer is no online multiplayer for both co-op and versus. This is a must with current multiplayer games and I am unsure why this wouldn’t be included. It feels like Pop Cap treated these extra modes as little mini games instead of a full-fledged mode that keeps you coming back.

Co-op takes the same features of adventure mode and adds another player to the mix. Sun is split up, so if you collect the sun, it is yours to spend and you must let your partner collect their share of sun. Also, there is some sun that cannot be collected individually, so both players must place their cursor over to collect. Each player gets a smaller amount of plant choices, so they must collaborate with each other in order to have a decent lineup. Co-op is a lot easier, as not only do you have two players, but either one can slow the zombies down with butter at any time by pressing “X”. Co-op is a nice addition, but not exactly the most complex.

Vs. mode lets you go head to head with another player, choosing to be either plants or the zombies. Plants win by taking out three targets on the zombie’s side, while zombies must eat the neighbors in the house. The plants side plays as you normally would, allowing you to pick your lineup. The zombies have gravestones to block and protect their targets while using an arsenal of zombies for attack. Spawning zombies takes brain power, which conveniently falls from the sky in the same manner as the plant’s sun. The balancing in versus is excellent. If both players know the game well enough you can end up in a stalemate until the game triggers a sudden death. Both sides do not get to collect any more power and rely on whatever is left in the bank until one player has finally been taken out.

Both modes feel good, but do not have the qualities it needs to shine and provide replayability. The good thing is you can go back to adventure mode, which is the single player experience and add another player. All co-op features are stripped out, except for the ability to use butter, but two people can place plants and collect sun into one bank. It at least gives the option to get another player involved.



Overall, Plants vs. Zombies is an amazing game, with plenty of love put into it. With a very cutesy, fun art style and easy to grasp concept, anybody can pick up and play, regardless of being a hardcore or causal gamer. While the Xbox Live Arcade version is the fasted loading and prettiest version, the game may be better suited for you if played on the iPhone or iPad. For me, playing a few levels of Plants vs. Zombies in my spare time is the ideal way to play. The game just doesn’t seem to be played for a full gaming session on the couch. If you don’t have an iDevice and don’t want to play on PC or Mac, then I encourage you to download this title now. The controls have been translated well and with some extra features, this version is top notch and worth the price of admission. Also, no matter how many times I see the credits music video, I need to watch and sing along.

Reviewer notes: Plants vs. Zombies was provided by Pop Cap games for Xbox Live Arcade. Before reviewing, I spent just about 9 hours with the game, along all modes. Adventure mode was completed fully. 8 out of 12 achievements were unlocked for a total of 115 points. Retail price: 1200MSP ($15) Recommended price: 1200MSP


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