Plants vs. Zombies: Solitaire Reborn | Morph Ball WizardMorph Ball Wizard, Opinion — By Daeran Wang on June 29, 2009 at 11:24 pm
By Daeran Wang
You can’t take it seriously.
That’s my first reaction to Popcap’s Plants vs. Zombies. It’s a game about countering the zombie apocalypse with sensible gardening and a trowel. Maybe that’s the charm. Rotting corpses with a hunger for human brains trudge endlessly toward your front door and your best course of action is to plant a few peapods and sunflowers.
There’s charm in the absurdity, but after the initial laughs, there’s a real game under there.
The veneer is full of puns like Dead Zeppelin, “all your brains belong to us,” and a dancing zombie dressed eerily familiar who summons backup dancers (Rest In Peace, MJ). The ways that zombies try to invade your house get more creative with dolphins, pogo sticks, and even Zambonis, or the more aptly named “Zombonis.”
Underneath all that is a superior packaging of easy-to-learn gameplay mechanics, a manageable challenge progression, and fast action. It is an economy/military game at heart. Without a serious story or an extremely complex set of inputs like actual real-time strategy games (ex. Starcraft), Plants vs. Zombies still manages to capture the satisfying crunchiness behind the strategic and tactical decisions.
It does this without the messiness of real warfare or even ponderous simulated warfare.
The game is played in real time so fast fingers do matter but aren’t necessary. To broaden the appeal to the non-stereotypical audience, the action is purposefully forgiving at lower levels. They did not remove the game’s necessary difficulty, but it is tweaked to steadily increase with natural progression. As usual, the player must always step his game up, but it is never frustrating. And even when you beat the game, the mini-games and the add-on features provide backyards full of re-playability and added challenge.
The time between levels has entertaining and farcical cut scenes, mainly involving an incomprehensible neighbor that will sell you more botanical weaponry to unleash on your undead adversaries. You gain money through killing zombies and even producing plants. That money can be spent to upgrade your arsenal and play in a relaxing side-game: the Zen garden.
The Zen garden is the no-adrenaline, low-blood-pressure feature of the game. You can grow and manage digital plants at your leisure. Those plants will also provide money when they are satisfied with your maintenance. It acts as a way to generate the large amounts of currency necessary for the big upgrade purchases and also as a screen saver. You can leave the Zen garden on and walk away. You’ll still get money and you also have something peaceful to watch.
I admire this game not just for its game play but on a marketing level as well. What I admire most is that the creators made it both addictive and manageable. The game can be played for 5 hours at a time or just 5 minutes. If someone has a 10-minute break, that’s enough time to get through a level and a mini-game. When the game is fully completed, it still retains enough charm to inspire a revisit every once in a while. Even when the game is second nature, it still provides a couple minutes of entertainment. A short break and then back to the more productive aspects of your day.
Although Plants vs. Zombies definitely has the appeal to attract gamers and non-gamers alike, both casual and hardcore, the genre can be off-putting to the zealous, the super-serious. Plants vs. Zombies is a casual game published by a casual game company. Popcap maybe a joke to serious gamers, but they are serious about their games. They also have their market analyzed and thoroughly cornered. They broke into it by publishing a little title called Bejeweled, which has almost become the new Solitaire in terms of time wasters. Since then, they have developed and/or published over 40 games.
With a market worth 2.25 billion dollars in 2007, why not corner it?
There is still untapped potential within the casual game market. Public opinion stereotypes gamers as both young and male, while the casual game market is predominantly older women. This new audience wants simple but challenging game play, colorful and cute graphics, and short puzzle games that are still engaging. People of all ages want to exercise their minds and gain a small sense of achievement, a small slice of victory from a game. Popcap’s plethora of titles has filled that niche perfectly.
Even with the amount of praise that I have piled into the article, there is a small point that I have to clarify. There is nothing explicitly original about the game play in Plants vs. Zombies and there’s nothing wrong with that. Popcap took existing game play elements from a series of games called “tower defense” which based upon an old concept from Starcraft called “lurker defense.” They took those elements, polished them and assembled them to fit their existing market.
This is very much like the much heralded phenomenon that is World of Warcraft. WoW took elements from all the pre-existing Massive Multiplayer Online Games and they succeeded not because they were the first, but because they crafted better and marketed better than everyone else.
Popcap – capitalism salutes you.
So, here’s my challenge. No matter who you are or what your experience with gaming may be, go to the Popcap website and grab yourself a copy of Plants vs. Zombies. I guarantee that you will enjoy it. There are so many features even after you beat the game that it is very much worth the $20. That’s a bargain considering most games debut at $60 and stay on the rack at $50 for six months. You’ll get the money’s worth on this one.
If you don’t enjoy it, contact me through this website and I’ll owe you dinner. We’ll get together and talk about why you hated the game and just about anything else.
And when you beat the game, watch the credits and smile, there’s a musical treat at the end.
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