Plants vs Zombies (DS) Review

Who said Gardener's World never taught us anything?

Plants vs Zombies DS Review
11th May, 2011 By Ian Morris
Game Info // Plants vs. Zombies
Plants vs. Zombies Boxart
Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: PopCap Games
Players (local wireless): 1 - 2
Available On: DS
Genre: Strategy (Tower Defence)

I can't be the only one who has their Facebook news feed constantly invaded by spam generating tat (unlike our brilliant Facebook page, I might add, which only provides up to date links to goings on on the site. You might even want to sign up. Go on... Please?). You'd be amazed at what your friends seem to click on. One of the most common ones seems to be themed around a zombie invasion "Friendy McPersonable will last 4h and 15m in a zombie invasion - how long would you last?", or "Your weapon for the zombie apocalypse - a can of radioactive baked beans! What better way to fight zombies than with nuclear flatulence". Only, that last one's kind of wrong. If Plants vs Zombies on the DSiWare store is anything to go by, we'd last for a long time. A very long time indeed. And all thanks to paying attention to Alan Tichmarsh.

You see, far from a sawn-off shotgun, or a machete, Plants vs Zombies poses a very different argument. What if, rather than some form of gun, plants were the most effective weapon against a zombie invasion. What if, all you had to defend yourself against the zombie hordes was a packet of seeds, some sunshine, and some very green fingers. The answer, it would seem, is one of the DSi Store's finest games.

Plants vs. Zombies Screenshot

You need sun to make your flowers grow. Any good gardner knows that.

Plants vs Zombies is a stripped-down version of the game that launched on the Xbox 360 last year (you can find out what we thought of that here), that's roughly equivalent to the hugely successful iPhone version in terms of features. There are so many versions of Plants vs Zombies, it can be a bit confusing to compare what you get with each, but if you're looking for a similar feature set to the PC/360 version, you'll be wanting the boxed DS game, which launched at the same time as the DSiWare version, and retails for £24.99. It's all very confusing, as none of the versions are entirely identical, but the Nintendo platforms don't seem to come out very well in the price stakes - the PC version, which is practically equivalent to the DS one, retails for £6.99 on Steam, while the iPhone/iPod version retails for £1.79, compared to the DSiWare one weighs in at around £8, if you buy your points through the DSiWare store. That's a big difference in price, especially when you consider the only real difference in terms of content is a few extra minigames.

That said, the price is practically our only issue of contention with Plants vs Zombies, as what we have here is every bit as great as we could have hoped. Bringing the same accessible mix of strategy to a whole new platform, Plants vs Zombies is one of the DSiWare store's best games.

A "tower defence" style strategy game, Plants vs Zombies puts you in charge of a poor home owner, who's trying to defend his house from a zombie invasion. Thankfully, the zombies being as, well, (brain)dead as they are, are only capable of attacking in a straight line, and insist on stopping to eat your plants as they go - which gives you the perfect chance to mount some form of resistance. And while your prized begonias may not seem like much use against a mounting zombie invasion, the greenery in Plants vs Zombies is much more useful, as each plant helps to turn back the zombie tide in its own specific way.

A bit like Pokemon, or rock/paper/scissors, each plant in Plants vs Zombies has its own strength and weaknesses, much like the zombies that oppose you. From pea shooters which, well, fire peas, to sunflower plants which produce the game's currency, sun points, which you need to spend on new plants, to walnuts which, with their tough shells, form a formidable barrier, as the zombies have to try and eat their way through, and even exploding chilli peppers, which take out whole rows of zombies, there's a huge variety of plants on offer to ramp up your defences - and all you have to do is choose where to plant them. With a limited amount of space, and 49 different types of plants available - only six of which you can take into each level - there's a lot of decision making to do if you want to set up a successful defence against the rampaging undead.

Plants vs. Zombies Screenshot

Even more confusing are the plants that work together - like the burning bush and the pea shooters. Firing a pea through the burning bush makes it do twice as much damage.

Of course, you can't just plant anything in your garden willy-nilly - these vital parts of your defence have to be earnt. You can buy new plants by spending sun points, which you collect both from sunflowers, and by touching the random blobs of sun that appear during the day. As you may expect, different plants cost different amounts of money, and the more effective the plant, the more it'll cost you - and the longer it'll take that slot to recharge, before you can add another one.

There's a huge amount of strategy involved here, as you've got so many trade-offs to deal with - do you plant lots of sunflowers now, to get your sun production started, leaving your house undefended, or do you plant a few sunflowers, and plant the cheapest defence you can, knowing full well it may not last - but it's better than nothing? How much space do you take up on your lawn with sunflowers, and how much space do you use for attacking elements? And, most importantly, how do you deal with the different types of zombies?

Much like your flowers, the zombies that lead the assault also come in many different shapes and sizes, which makes coming up with a solid defence all the more challenging. While the normal ones shuffle around at a steady pace, and are fairly weak, zombies with cones, or even buckets on their head can take much more damage before they, er, die... again. Linebacker zombies charge at your plants at a crazy speed, and need to be taken out quickly, while the balloon zombies float carelessly overhead - out of the reach of your pea shooters, making creating a solid defence that has no weaknesses a real challenge.

The important thing to remember is that it's difficult to instantly respond to any particular type of zombie, as you've got no way of telling what type of zombie's going to appear in what row, and there's no way of moving your flowers around once you've planted them. So when the Zomboni driving zombie shows up, which you can only really stop by planting a specific type of flower beneath his wheels, and you're out of sun points, you'll be ruined. Unless you can come up with a quick contingency plan, you're left just waiting for the zombie bobsled team to slide their way into your front room, and make themselves at home.

The more you play the game, the more challenging things get, too, not least in terms of the placement of your plants, and the decision about which you take into your levels with you. The game tries hard to ensure you never sink into a comfort zone of just building the same defences in each level. Night levels no longer spawn sun at random points, but let you plant mushrooms, which are all a lot cheaper than your normal plants, if not free. Later levels add fog, which covers half of the screen (giving you less time to react to attacking zombies), swimming pools (which opens the way for the incredibly annoying dolphin riding zombie, which leaps over the first plant it comes to, before munching on the rest of your defences), before taking the fight to the rooftops for the grand finale.

Plants vs. Zombies Screenshot

No, you fools! That'll never stop them!

It's never a frustrating game, but always a challenge, and a game that'll make you think through your defences in each and every level. As the zombies you face change (and you can check which zombies you'll be against before you begin the level), so to does your approach to each level, and the flowers you'll want to take in with you. There's so much depth here, you could play for weeks and still not discover all of the strategies - and at the moment, that's exactly what we're doing.

While compared to the iPhone version, there's no doubting it's overpriced, there's still no denying that Plants vs Zombies is an excellent game. The debate over Apple's pricing models can wait for another day - whether you're buying it on a cartridge, or downloading it from the DSiWare store, you can be sure you're buying an excellent game.

If you're looking for a game that'll keep your brain engaged for the bus ride home, give Plants vs Zombies a try. Once you've soiled your plants in public, there'll be no going back.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS

StarStarStarStarHalf star
  • +
    Makes you think.
  • +
    So many options.
  • +
    So many strategies.
  • -
    So much money!
  • -
    Still peeves us that we pay so much more than the iPhone version.
  • -
    Even though it's fairly lengthy, you'll still be left wanting more.
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