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Plants Vs Zombies Adventures Review: A Solid Port to Social Gaming

Care for some undead-killing plants and brain-munching zombies on Facebook?

PopCap (now under EA) will be launching the much-anticipated Plants Vs Zombies sequel – Plants Vs Zombies: It’s About Time – this July 2013 (here’s a cute but entirely spoiler-free teaser). Before that, however, they recently deployed the beta of their PvZ game on Facebook: Plants Vs Zombies Adventures.

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That’s right folks: move over Farmville, the blockbuster tower defense game that blurs the border between casual and core gaming has been ported to Facebook. Plants Vs Zombies Adventures hazards into the social gaming realm, but in exchange for what? Has it lost some of its appeal? Its zaniness? Its gameplay value?

 

The Story: You take the fight to the zombies, reclaiming your town from the undead

In the first game, you’re stuck trying to defend your own house. In Plants Vs Zombies Adventures, you reclaim your entire town while defending your territory, venturing into different maps outside of your town, defeating more zombies on the way to designated levels where special items await.

Expect no deep plot here. Just the fun sort of craziness that made the original title a comic success.

Gameplay: It’s the same old elements with a twist and a social gaming focus

The first thing you’ll notice about the game is you’re not focusing on just your house anymore. Your house is where you grow zombie-fighting plants using provided planter boxes (you acquire more as you play, or, alternatively, you can purchase more). Different plants take different lengths of time to grow: the peashooter appears to be the fastest grower, taking only one minute. The sunflower takes two minutes. Yes, you have to wait for the plants to grow before you can do anything with them. After they’ve bloomed, you can take them with you on your trailer truck to explore other areas of the game, or plant them in your own backyard to protect your lands from invading zombie hoards that show up every so often. The goal – other than to survive – is to retake more and more lots from within your town, and protect them from future attacks. The in-game tutorial might be confusing, partly because it’s given by Crazy Dave, but you’ll get the picture after a few skirmishes.

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My town. A lot reclaimed aside from my own after my first play through.

The second thing you’ll notice aside from this Farmville-like facet is that the level battles aren’t the same as in the original title. Instead of a rectangular plot of land where you can plant your Bloom and Doom zombie killers anywhere, you get a plot of land with paths on them. The zombies, being well-rounded members of the community, stay on these paths and keep off the grass or any other terrain for that matter. You can plant your sunflowers, peashooters, and other plants adjacent to the pathways or on the pathways themselves, depending on the plant (because otherwise, the zombies can’t eat them, can they?). The zombies come out from tombstones that spring up from the ground at the end of the paths, and are eventually destroyed as time passes (the zombie bar is still the standard indicator of level progress). The zombies aim to reach the end of the paths, which typically lead to houses or other establishments of import like your trailer, though sometimes they’re of less import, like chickens or even a drum of no obvious significance. Like in the original game, each offensive plant has its own range, but in Plants Vs Zombies Adventures, the range is rectangular, since paths can zigzag and crisscross. This creates a more dynamic playing field, which in turn delivers more tactical considerations per game. For instance, planting a single wallnut on a crisscrossing path will stop zombies from both paths, and planting a peashooter in the middle of zigzagging paths allows it to shoot at zombies coming from both paths.

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Things can get complicated with these zigzagging, crisscrossing paths.

So you grow your plants back at your place and you can take a limited number of them with you on your zombie ass-kicking road trips, where on each stage you can take a limited number of plants per type and a limited number of types per level. Confused yet? For starters, you can take four types of plants, but only five of each on every level.

Pick your plants to take into battle.

Don’t worry, this limitation is offset by the fact that the plants you place on the battlefield don’t permanently die, they just get knocked out and you can revive them after a certain length of time. To help you on your fights, you can use zombie freeze or plant boosters on zombies and plants by using 25 sun, aside from other tools like replenishing lawn mowers, garden gloves, and zombie zappers. The plants you haven’t used up return in your repertoire. A person from your town will typically give you “missions” which necessitate exploring a new map, with each map having more levels than the one prior. Reaching the end of each map unlocks a special item needed to reclaim another lot in your town, which in turn unlocks more plants and more zombies. Speaking of new plants and zombies…

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You can see the zombies you’ll fend off in the prep screen for each stage.

So far I’ve reclaimed four lots and have acquired four new plants: the long-range, projectile-shooting aspearagus, the close-range, head-banging beet, the special beeshooter that shoots bees at a medium range, and the special power flower that replaces the triple-headed sunflower upgrade in the original game. I’ve been fighting against new zombies too: the barrel zombie that rushes forward without regard for plants once his barrel has been destroyed and his leaf-covered privates exposed, and the hipster zombie with his baseball caps stacked atop each other on his head. The loading screen shows more unique zombies further in the game, and more new plants too.

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The special items you can take to assist in battle.

So how does all of it play? The good news is that it’s faithful to the original game mechanics, but the bad news is that it’s focused on social gaming, which creates two distinct barriers to full gameplay immersion:

  • You need to either wait for the plants to grow (and some of them take hours) or you need to purchase credits (gems in the game, which you can then use to buy zombucks for property, coins for plants, or time to skip waiting periods)
  • You need friends to carpool with you and help you reach new maps – otherwise you can use zombucks

See, it is a solid social gaming port. The problem is that it inadvertently alienates hardcore gamers who just want to play and not bother with microtransactions. If you don’t want to spend money, you’ll have to stop midgame and come back again hours later. Well, that’s how it is with social games. Sorry, hardcore crowd.

One other thing: you can add your Facebook friends as neighbors and then send zombies to invade their towns. If you win, you can leave a personalized note boasting your brain-hunting prowess. It isn’t as tactical as the I, Zombie mode of the original though. You merely get to pick the highest level zombie to send, then sit back and watch.

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Just click that “Send Zombies” button and place the brain-decorated flag where you want your undead to shuffle to.

Production Value: Still a good, working Plants Vs Zombies game, with some occasional bugs owing to its beta phase

Let’s get this out of the way: the game’s in beta. You can expect bugs and glitches, but overall, you’re still playing Plants Vs Zombies and the production values reflect the standard of the original. From the designs of the plants to the people to the zombies to the levels, everything is reminiscent of the flagship title, if a bit more polished. The old PvZ sounds and background music add a touch of nostalgia – the crazy sort that makes you remember zombies on pogo sticks and bungee cords. The insanity carried over well too. We even find out why Crazy Dave speaks the way he does: apparently his entire town speaks the same way. We’ll keep this section short since it’s still in beta. Here are a few bugs to watch out for when playing:

  • When picking up newly grown plants or collecting coins from your establishments, sometimes no experience stars or coins come out (might need a few reloads of the webpage)
  • Different elements might not load, sometimes even houses don’t load, which cause real-time disruption of your defenses (plants on paths not connected to houses are not active)
  • Sound issues – sound drops and picks up again
  • Zombie sneak attack bugs: counter shows zero instead of thirty seconds; no zombies show up and eventually the game says you were defeated
  • Credit bug: I’ve seen it happen when using zombucks for transactions – sometimes the transaction doesn’t occur and when you reload, the zombucks have already been spent
  • Pointer issues – the mouse pointer will not immediately place a plant selected if you gather sun before planting. Happens rarely.
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My town after three more lots have been reclaimed. The aspearagus have such a wide range that aspearagus plants placed in the next lots can still shoot zombies that attack the others.

All in all the game still is PvZ, but the social focus distracts from continuous gameplay and there isn’t any real end goal to work towards, since it’s a social game and it should go on and on. The new plants, zombies, and gameplay elements make it very interesting and at some levels more dynamic than the original, and the “visit your neighbors” feature is a treat. I would highly recommend it as a fun, play-every-once-in-a-while social game, but it will leave a lot of gamers hanging. If this game is any indication of how the actual sequel might play out, however, then it’s something to watch out for. [by ]

 

You can watch the feature trailer here:



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