On…Plants vs Zombies 2 (iOS)

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In terms of core gameplay, not a whole lot has changed from the game’s first iteration. You still gather sunlight, use that to plant different varieties of interesting plants down, in order to combat the waves of zombies trying to meander across the game board grid to eat your brains. Now, the sequel has been released for iOS and it’s free to download and play. So what’s different in Plants vs Zombies 2 and are these differences better or worse?

The first big change is the inclusion of many new and different stages which vary up the kinds of zombies you face. Whilst the original had that to some extent, Plants vs Zombies 2 takes it a whole new level. Thanks to a malfunctioning time machine, you first end up in Ancient Egypt where you have to fend off hoards of mummified zombies. Yeah, the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; it actually makes even less sense than the original’s ‘Defend your house’ premise. But let’s face it, we’re not playing this game for its story.

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The other big change is the inclusion of challenges which changes how the game is structured. To unlock a new region, you must collect stars which can be gained from completing challenges. And by challenge, they’re not kidding. They include things like “Don’t lose more than 2 plants in this level” or “Only use up to 1500 sun”. Many of the harder levels have three different conditions which you must meet to gain the star. It encourages backtracking through the levels and grinding through to get challenge stars. Some might find that a bit off-putting and would prefer to just breeze through all the levels the game has to offer. Personally, I find it quite interesting and it’s the perfect formula for an iOS game where you just pick it up casually for 5 minutes at a time, get a challenge star, and come back later.

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Furthermore, to aid you in this higher difficulty, you now have the power to use plant food in a level which is a kind of one-off super boost to a single plant in your arsenal. Use it on a peashooter and he turns into a devastating machine gun for a few seconds, mowing down everything in front of it. Using it on a cabbage thrower though, launches an all-out assault of raining cabbages onto everything on the field. Discovering how the plant food interacts with your plants is an absolute delight. I really enjoyed this addition to the game, and I found it incredibly useful; it helps to keep the player engaged when they might otherwise sit back and let their plants do all the work.

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Indeed, the emphasis in this game seems to have shifted. Instead of merely setting up your board and letting your plants mow down the zombies, there’s a lot more player interaction. This is reflected in the use of power-ups, which utilise touch screen controls. I found these power ups to be mainly rather annoying because to be honest, the touch screen gestures needed to use them were fiddly and unresponsive. Still, it’s clear these power-ups are hugely over powered and meant for occasional use to clear out a particularly tough wave, rather than as a key feature of the game.

But how then does the game limit your use of these overpowered abilities? There’s now more emphasis on collecting coins. Coins can be spent on buying more plant food or on power-ups. Coins are now plentiful in the levels, and beating each level will yield a fair amount of coins.

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And honestly, you’re going to need that plant food and those power-ups. The levels are much harder than they were in the original and much more fast-paced. Waves of zombies are way larger and much more unforgiving. It also seems as though zombies can chomp through your plants way faster than they used to. I would say that the game definitely encourages you to make use of the new features. A cynical person though might suggest that this increase in difficulty is to encourage people to spend money in-game.

Ah yes, the dreaded gaming anathema: in-game app purchases. Since PvZ2 has made the transition to being an iOS exclusive (for now anyway), there’s been a lot of controversy around the pay model. It’s now free-to-play which is fantastic, in my opinion, as it lowers the barrier of entry significantly, though I wouldn’t have minded paying maybe $15 for a full-priced version on the PC. The controversy though lies in the in-game app purchases, which range from buying more coins (to use on power-ups) to actually being able to buy plants. The buying more coins thing is pretty reasonable, in my opinion, as I’ve never felt like I had to buy them. It might have helped out with some of the harder challenges, but you can easily gain coins from just grinding out some levels.

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The ability to buy plants though is a bit more suspect. The fact that some of these plants are from the original game and not unlockable by any other means is just annoying for people who played the original and liked the Jalapeno or the Squash. I wouldn’t mind at all if they made them super end-game plants that could eventually be unlocked but they’re just standard fare plants which is a bit insulting. Someone worked out that it costs $19 to buy all those plants. Now, one could argue that $19 is not an unreasonable price to unlock a full game experience. But it’s the way that they structure it such that you’re paying for the game in piece-meal. Paying $2.99 for a single plant just doesn’t feel worth it.

Still, do these in-game app purchases ruin the game? I have to resolutely say no. The game is still fun and entirely playable without spending any money whatsoever. In my opinion, the inclusion of loads of new plants which you can unlock through normal play makes up for the lack of the paid-for plants. One called the Bak Choi in particular (far right in picture below) has quickly become my favourite: it deals incredibly fast punches to nearby enemies and finishes them up with a beautiful uppercut.

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But back to the whole app purchase thing, I think if it had to be a free-to-play model with in-game purchases, then this was the best way to do it. I would still have preferred a traditional pay model where you pay a set amount and get all the content, but this isn’t too bad either. It certainly hasn’t ruined my enjoyment of the game.

In conclusion, Plants vs Zombies 2 will certainly satisfy that itch for tower-defense like zombie and plant action. It’s switch to the iOS platform has changed a lot, some for the better and some for the worst. It’s now much more of a pick up and play on the go when you have 5 minutes type of game, but I think it works well. The new features of power-ups are engaging and keep the gameplay feeling fresh, whilst not deviating too far from the core concept. And to be honest, it’s a free to play game. So if you have an iOS device, at the very least, try it out; maybe you will find the in-app purchases alienating or the new changes to be dull, but you don’t lose anything (except a bit of time) unless you try.

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