iPhone Game Review: Plants vs Zombies

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?!?

The Hype:
Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense-style game available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Get ready to soil your plants in an all-new action-strategy game from PopCap. A mob of fun-loving zombies is about to invade your home, and your only defense is an arsenal of 49 zombie-zapping plants. Use peashooters, wall-nuts, cherry bombs and more to mulchify 26 types of zombies before they can reach your front door. Each zombie has its own special skills, so you’ll need to think fast and plant faster to combat them all. But be careful how you use your limited supply of greens and seeds& as you battle the fun-dead, obstacles like a setting sun, creeping fog and a swimming pool add to the challenge. And with five game modes to dig into, the fun never ends.

* Conquer all 50 levels of Adventure mode -through day, night and fog, in a swimming pool and on the rooftop
* Battle 26 types of zombies including pole-vaulters, snorkelers and “Zomboni” drivers
* Earn 49 powerful perennials and collect coins to buy a pet snail, power-ups and more!

The Reality:

Fact is, last May I gushed about the PC and Mac versions of Popcap’s Plants vs. Zombies in a discussion review, one of the most interesting and fun entries ever made into 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 โ€” itโ€™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, Nintendo DS and XBLA. I also mentioned it here. 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 the 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 include 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 and 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. But it remains at its core an immensely fun and satisfying experience that will fill your hours with loads of zombie-destroying fun!

Where to Buy: iTunes App Store

Price: $2.99

What I Like:
+ Loads of content.
+ Loads of replayability.
+ Budget pricing

What Needs Improvement:
– Mini-games are absent
– Eventually, if you don’t eat, you will die. And perhaps become a zombie!

Source: review code provided by publisher. Originally reviewed for VGBlogger

Categories: Reviews


14 replies

  1. I have wasted more time on this game than I care to admit; it is simply great fun.

    PvZ is very well done and worth every penny. The only thing I wish is that there were an option to add a battery indicator on the game screen. Until I started playing with the iPhone plugged in or with an extended battery installed, I kept hitting the low battery warning. ๐Ÿ˜›

  2. @Judie:
    “I have wasted more time on this game than I care to admit”

    There IS a reason I put this in the review:

    “Eventually, if you donโ€™t eat, you will die.”


    I got addicted on the Mac … then on the PC, installing on my gaming PC, work PC, and netbook. I had just weaned myself off when THIS version arrived …

  3. the worst thing is that I’ve got everyone else at home playing it, too. ;-))

  4. I love love love love love this game.

  5. Great article! Now all I need is an XBox Live version and my PvZ addiction will be complete. :)

  6. @egarayblas – add the DS version as well … definitely would buy that! Would love a PSP Mini as well!


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