You would be forgiven for saying you"ve had your fill of tower defense games. The past few years have seen a flood of these strategy clones filling every system available. But, whether they"re a fan of the genre or not, pretty much everyone agrees that Plants vs. Zombies is awesome. PopCap, one of the best developers around, now brings its excellent tower defense game to the Nintendo DS. While it uses the basic mechanics of all efforts in the genre, Plants vs. Zombies stands out for its charm, personality, and loads of gameplay variety. The result is another addictive experience from PopCap -- but it unfortunately doesn"t run as well here on the DS.
Zombies are creeping on your lawn, and your garden is the last line of defense against these brain-crazy cannibals. You have some pretty peculiar (but useful) plants at your disposal, including pea shooters that spit at the undead, hot tamales that burn everything in their path, and Venus zombie traps that will devour an enemy in one gulp. By planting various seeds in strategic locations around your lawn you may be able to hold off the onslaught and keep them from entering your house and eating your brain. It"s a very simple design and, while it does eventually become challenging, this is one of the easier tower defense games I"ve played -- and also one of the most enjoyable.
The real draw here is the incredible variety of plants (towers) and zombies. There are 48 kinds of plants with numerous offensive, defensive, and production capabilities, and 26 different zombies. Completing each level in the game will unlock a new plant or item to add to your arsenal. The array of choices means you can customize your strategy and confront the undead on your own terms. These constant rewards really keep you involved and will have you defending your lawn for much longer than you may have expected.
There is also a wide variety of gameplay styles. Some levels take place during the day and some at night, which has a large effect on what plants are available to you, how you harvest sunlight (your resources), and what environmental obstacles you encounter. Interspersed among the regular levels are more arcade-like variations on the tower defense formula. You may lose the ability to select plants and instead have to make do with random weapons that come down a conveyor belt. Or you may be asked to play Whack-a-Zombie out of the blue. There is also a survival mode to unlock and puzzles that let you play as the zombies. You can"t go more than a few minutes in this game without discovering something new and delightful.
Adding to the game"s charm is the cast of undead, ranging from zombie football players to zombies that carry screen door shields to aquatic zombies that ride dolphins (you have a pool in the backyard). These aren"t your gruesome Left 4 Dead or Resident Evil zombies. This is a zombie game for the whole family (never thought I"d say that). It also has a catchy soundtrack that becomes more intense as your yard is flooded with enemies.
To plant, you drag greenery from your arsenal at the top of the screen down to the desired plot of land below. It works well, but I would have appreciated the ability to tap a plant and then tap the spot where I want it to grow.
Plants vs. Zombies on DS includes the multiplayer modes from the Xbox Live Arcade version. You can play a bunch of different game variations with a friend who also has a cartridge, or you can use Download Play to send a friend a basic skirmish, which is nice.
This version doesn"t run nearly as smoothly as the previous editions of Plants vs. Zombies. Characters have fewer frames of animation and when the action gets busy the slowdown is very noticeable. It"s too bad, since this version costs about seven times as much as the silky smooth iPhone version. There are no new plants or zombies, but you do get four new mini-games, three of which are pretty fun.