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Review: Plants vs Zombies XBLA

Susan Arendt | 22 Sep 2010 13:00
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By now, you're probably very well acquainted with PopCap's wonderfully bizarre and addictive take on tower defense, Plants vs. Zombies. At least I hope you are, because we've been hitting you over the head with it, begging you to play it for the past year or so. If by some strange happenstance you're still utterly unfamiliar with the game, feel free to go check out our review of the original PC version to find out what makes Plants vs. Zombies so incredibly good. If you've already played the heck out of PvZ on your PC (or iPhone or iPad) you may understandably be wondering if the XBLA version is as good as the original and if it's at all worth your notice. The answers are absolutely and ... maybe.

For all six of you who've never heard of Plants vs. Zombies and are too lazy to check out our previous review, here's a quick rundown: Zombies are on your lawn, shambling towards your house. The only thing standing between you and a brainectomy sans anesthesia is an assortment of plants uniquely suited to home defense. The sunshine you collect from sunflowers and the sky pays for the pea shooters, wallnuts, cherry bombs and other plants you'll use to lay waste to the cast of the Night of the Living Dead.

It's an incredibly good time that makes the transition to its new home on Xbox Live Arcade with aplomb. The controls have naturally been tweaked a bit to compensate for the loss of a mouse; now, rather than clicking, you'll swoop your cursor around to pick up sun, use the shoulder buttons to shuffle between your seed packets, and hit the A and B buttons to plant or dig up your leafy soldiers. It takes a bit of getting used to - you'll likely end up trying to move your cursor over your seeds to select them - but it works quite well.

Controller adaptations aside, the core of Plants vs. Zombies remains largely unchanged. The many modes - including adventure, survival, puzzle, and minigames - return, as do the Tree of Wisdom and Crazy Dave. XBLA's take on Plants vs. Zombies has a few minor additions, such as a customizable house, Achievements, and leaderboards, but the real stars of the show are the game's new co-operative modes.

In the main Co-Op mode, you and a friend divvy up the seeds and fight to catch the sun you'll need to fuel them. Each player is responsible for grabbing his own sunshine, which can turn Co-op into Versus pretty quickly unless you're a particularly adept diplomat. Holding down X will slap a zombie with a big pat of butter, sticking him in place - but you'll to stay still to keep him there. Co-Op has some fun ideas, but the it never quite feels as fun as it should. You have to devote too much of your attention to not screwing up your partner's plans to really enjoy the battle with the undead. After playing through Adventure mode, developing your own personal style and strategies, Co-Op feels just a bit too constricting. There are other co-op activities, like bowling and challenges, which are hit and miss. Some you'll genuinely enjoy, some you'll just sort of shrug off and move on. (I was never a fan of the bowling, personally.)

The more obviously adversarial Versus mode allows for more personal freedom, and trumps Co-Op as a result. One player takes on Team Plant, while the other one mans the zombies. The plant side of things plays out the same as the regular game, with collecting of sun and planting of botanical warriors. Zombies play out much the same way, collecting brains from the sky and from gravestones, then using them to generate different types of undead soldiers. The goal for zombies is the same as it ever was: Get in the house and chow down on some noggins. Plants, meanwhile, have to try and take out three targets on the zombies' side of the lawn. It's a fun, frantic race that will more than likely lead to some shouting and name calling. But in a good way.

Bottom Line: If you've never played Plants vs. Zombies before, then this is - wait for it - a no-brainer. The game is an amazing gigglefest of unbridled fun, overflowing with game modes and replayability. You don't have be a fan of tower defense to love every last minute of it, either. If you've already played plenty of PvZ, though, it's a bit trickier. The Versus mode strikes a perfect balance of challenge, skill, and smacktalk, but it's probably not enough to justify a repurchase all by itself.

Recommendation: If you don't already own it in some other form, download it immediately. Everyone else, take the demo for a spin to determine whether the extras are worth adding another lawn to your digital neighborhood.

Game: Plants vs. Zombies XBLA
Genre: Strategy
Developer: PopCap
Publisher: PopCap
Release Date: September 8, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Available from: Xbox.com

Susan Arendt has a code id her dose.

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