When the original Plants vs. Zombies debuted in 2009 it was immensely popular, thanks to appealing gameplay and colorful characters, both good guy plants and bad guy zombies. It's one of those rare games that translates well no matter what platform it's on, whether you're aiming for high score greatness on the PlayStation Network or taking it on the go with your iPhone.
A sequel was inevitable, and earlier this year, PopCap Games let the undead critter out of the bag with Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time, featuring even more strategic goodness than the original and a new free-to-play structure.
With the sequel, there's a new time travel angle. You begin the game fending off a zombie horde in the backyard. Soon after, you're whisked off to different eras, including ancient Egypt, the Pirate Seas and the Wild West. Each chapter has new zombies that you'll need to destroy, whether it's Egyptian types that try to suck away your precious sun icons or tied-up pirate zombies that come swooping in with assistance from birds.
With each zombie lurching towards your side of the play field, heroic plants are introduced to fend them off. You have ones that were introduced in the first game – the sunflower to generate sun energy, your pea-spitters, your protective potato mines – but there are several new ones as well. Our personal favorites are the Coconut Cannons, which pack quite a punch and hit with dead-on accuracy. Others include boomerang flinging plants that hit multiple enemies at once, cabbage chuckers that do major damage from a distance and "creeper" plants that sneak up through the ground and decimate the undead in seconds.
Management of these plants is up to you, just as it was in the first game. Using sun icons that you collect throughout the stage – both falling from the sky and through sunflowers – you'll amass a large plant army to fend off the zombie horde. Sometimes you'll be faced with a challenge, such as a nearly unstoppable Yeti zombie, forcing you to use one of the newer defenses introduced in the sequel.
These include plant food that helps increase the power of whatever soldier you feed it to, as well as touch-screen power-ups, including Pinch, Electrocute and Fling. Each of these require coins to use, as they have a stronger effect on enemies than the plants themselves. You can either build up a collection of them from defeating enemies, or in pure free-to-play fashion, add a couple of dollars to beef up your in-game bank account. The choice is yours.
Where Plants vs. Zombies 2 does things vastly different from the first is with the new world map. Levels open up depending on what choices you make. This includes opening up new areas with the help of keys you find scattered in each stage, discovering power-ups – like the "freeze cabbage" that can stop a select group of enemies that step on it – and star missions, which can earn you bonus cash if you meet all the objectives. Warning: these particular missions are much more challenging. One actually puts sunflowers right in the middle of the play field, forcing you to build defenses around them before zombies chow down.
From what we've played so far, based on a build we downloaded from the Australian App Store, Plants vs. Zombies 2 retains the original's magic. The touch-screen gestures are easily read, and you can pick and choose which six plants you want in your army. If you prefer a defensive route, you can rely more on boulder plants and potato mines. If you're more of a go-getter, you can line up pea spitters and cabbage chuckers. No matter what style you prefer, you'll pick up on PopCap's clever gameplay with ease.
One more thing – it's wise to use plant food and power-ups. For instance, if you need to beef up your team, you can feed it to a sunflower and make it shoot a handful of sun icons. If you prefer a straight-on attack, your cabbage chucker will turn into a highly accurate catapult, hitting everything in sight. As for your touch-screen power-ups, keep those on hand for the final waves, because that's when the zombies stack the odds in their favor.
You can download Plants vs. Zombies 2 when the game releases this summer for iPhone and iPad.