Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time, the sequel to the popular tower defense game that was first released in 2009, has officially launched for iOS devices. Developer PopCap touts the game as being entirely free to play, meaning that every level can be accessed and played at no cost, although there are options to buy new plant types and other bonuses through in-app purchases. PopCap says that it will be bringing the title to “other platforms” sometime later this year.
We’ve spent a good while with the backyard defense sim and generally found it to be just as accessible and enjoyable as its predecessor. Anyone familiar with the original Plants vs. Zombies will be right at home here; you’ll be frantically grabbing pieces of sunlight, using those pieces to tactically set more plant defenders across your lawn, and then modifying and adjusting your botanical armada as waves of lumbering yet adorable undead try to chomp through your setup.
It’s all as polished as you’d expect a mobile game from a big-name developer to be, as everything we played looked sharp and ran without a hitch. It remains as satisfying as ever to listen to the simple boops and bonks that come when a zombie’s arm pops off, although that makes Plants vs. Zombies 2 sound much more graphic than it actually is. Rest assured, the tone here is still cartoonish, mildly absurd (read the title again), and lighthearted, and it’s still a game for the whole family.
The story is simplistic and charming, like most of the game. Here’s the setup: Crazy Dave, your bearded and grubby companion from the first game, just ate a really good taco. It was so good that he’d be willing to go back in time to eat it again. So he does, with the help of his talking computer van Penny, and he brings you back in the process. It’s about time, remember.
This leads you back three separate worlds–Ancient Egypt, Pirate Seas, and the Wild West–each of which are filled with a variety of main stages and challenge levels. Each world has its own cute theme, so in the Egypt levels you’ll be fighting zombies dressed like mummies and pharaohs, while in the pirate levels you’ll be fighting on a wooden ship. The environments bring some notable differences gameplay-wise–in Egypt, for instance, there’ll be tombstones that block certain squares on the board–and their visual shakeups are both appreciated and pleasant to the eye.
There’s a wider variety of plant types here, ranging from familiar peashooters to new close-range pummelers like the cabbage Bonk Choy. These, along with various other abilities and rewards, are constantly being introduced as you work your way through the game’s 60 or so individual stages, a traditional yet effective system that kept us going to see what neat thing we could do next.
Some of those neat things are new to the series. You’ll quickly be introduced to upgrades like “plant food,” a temporary upgrade that lets your plants shoot rapid-fire attacks for a couple of seconds, while “power ups” let you (as in, actual you) decapitate, electrify and throw zombies around the screen for a brief period of time through taps, swipes and pinches. This all looks adorable, we swear.
But although your zombie beatdown skills are enhanced here, Plants vs. Zombies 2 can still be every bit as challenging as the first one. The game does a good job of explaining its systems and easing you into the more challenging levels, but you still get that sense of manic nervousness whenever the final wave of enemies comes at you all at once. That only intensifies once the zombies start bringing in shields, stealing your sunshine and the like. You’re always right on the edge of feeling overwhelmed and feeling exhilarated, which subsequently makes you feel both rewarded and relieved once you move on to the next stage.
Of course, the big worry going into Plants vs. Zombies 2 was its price. More than a few “free-to-play” titles are effectively unplayable without coughing up some dough, but thankfully, PopCap has not followed suit here. You can throw down anywhere from $3 to $10 for various plant types, bonuses, and packs of coins (the in-game currency), but none of those are ever essential to advancing in the main game. The store in which you buy these upgrades is politely pushed to the top corner of the screen too, so it rarely feels as if PopCap is forcing them down your throat.
The in-app purchases are more analogous to cheat codes than anything necessary; dropping $5 on a big batch of coins will make your life easier, yes, but the game is very much possible to get through without them. Almost every plant type and upgrade that is buyable can also be had through playing normally, particularly through the various challenge levels.
Those brain-teasers–one has you fending off zombies with randomized plants, for example, while another has you taking them out through a memory-intensive match game–should be fun enough for dedicated Plants vs. Zombies players to ignore the in-app purchase system altogether. But even if PopCap did take the cheap route, it would still be on top of a smart, fun and friendly game–one that’s well worth your time and your money.