A zombie horde is on the rampage, and only your garden stands between them and your oh-so tasty brains.
This would usually be the cue for a bloodthirsty splatterfest but PopCap – maker of puzzle games Bejeweled and Zuma – has a fluffier approach to game design. With not a gun in sight, you must marshal an army of super-powered plants to defend your home.
This bizarre scenario is the basis of one of the best puzzle games we’ve played. Your garden is divided into squares, eight across by five high, and you can place plants in any square. The zombies shuffle across the screen from right to left down one of the five rows, eating anything in their path. If a single zombie breaches your defences, it’s game over. It sounds simple, but there’s a huge variety of zombie attackers and plants to counter them with.
You start with only a handful of hardy perennials. The Pea-Shooter shoots a single pea at the horde, while the Wall-Nut can absorb large amounts of damage but has no attack of its own, plus there’s a landmine and a one-shot bomb. Each costs a set amount of ‘sunshine’ to plant. You can harvest this resource by planting Sunflowers. You’ll devise basic tactics quickly, with Sunflowers at the back, then a double line of Pea-Shooters, all protected by Wall-Nuts.
Such basic defences work fine against the initial hordes, but things soon become more complex. Tougher zombies with protective headgear come first, followed by more specialised types. Pole-vaulting zombies can leap over your first line of defence, and bungee zombies descend from above to steal your plants. You’re given more powerful plants to deal with these, but even so you’ll soon be struggling against, and laughing at, thriller-style dancing zombies and even a whole zombie bobsleigh team.
With 49 different plants and 26 types of zombie, there’s plenty of variation over the game’s 50 levels. These are divided into sections: the back garden introduces a pool with water plants and snorkelling zombies. Then when night falls, you rely on a different set of fungus-based defences. Finally you’re forced to plant into pots on your roof to defend your chimney.
Once you’ve defeated the final boss, there’s plenty more action to enjoy, including a clever variation where you take control of the zombie horde. You collect cash during the games, which can be spent on upgrades for certain plants along with other special abilities. There’s even a ‘Zen Garden’ where you can cultivate plants in peace with the help of a watering can and fertiliser.
At only £7 for a download from the Steam service, this is a bargain. Serious gamers may find the first half of the main game a tad on the easy side, but it’s still very enjoyable. Plants vs. Zombies isn’t just great fun; it’s simply great.