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Plants vs Zombies 2

For: iPad   Also on: Android, iPhone


Product: Plants vs Zombies 2: It's About Time | Publisher: PopCap Games | Format: iPad | Genre: Tower defence | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Plants vs Zombies 2: It's About Time iPad, thumbnail 1
Free-to-play hasn't ruined Plants vs Zombies. It has, however, made it much more of a grind.

The trouble with F2P is that so many games have their design structured around micro-transactions. Many games deliberately, cynically hold players back in order to encourage them to spend.

PopCap's solution is a little different, but at times - and particularly in light of this sequel's significantly sharper difficulty curve - that all-important charm, the reason we fell in love with an otherwise fairly straightforward tower defence game in the first place, is lost.

Pharoah nuff

Take, for example, your progress through the first world: Ancient Egypt. There's a path straight to the next area, with 11 levels to complete. I finished the majority on my first attempt, but needed a couple of shots at the final two or three stages.

With the last wave of Stage 11 finally vanquished, I was looking forward to tackling the pirate-themed world, only to be informed that I'd need 11 more stars to unlock it - or I could pay £2.99 / $4.99 if I didn't fancy going back.

At this stage, several of the levels I'd already beaten suddenly had new objectives to complete, with three stars to collect on each. Yet it's only possible to collect a single star on each attempt, meaning I'd have to complete several levels multiple times to move forward.

I could, of course, venture off the beaten track and tackle some of the bonus stages for extra stars, but then I'd need to find keys to unlock the gates to reach them. And how to obtain these keys? Why, by playing levels over again until they drop.

With 12 keys to unlock all the extra paths on the first world alone, that's a lot of repetition. More so when you factor in the difficulty in obtaining the third stars of each stage in particular.

Power plant

IAPs explained
Coin bundles range from £1.99 / $2.99 for 5,000 (which won't last you very long) to £69.99 / $99.99 for 450,000 (which will).

You can buy four premium plants from between £2.99 / $4.99 and £3.99 / $6.99, while upgrades that boost the number of Plant Food slots or the amount of sun you start with come in at a similar cost.

Finally, there are the bundles, from £2.99 to £6.99 / $9.99 - these get you one of the premium plants plus coins and an upgrade.

The mid-priced bundle is probably the best choice if you're looking to speed the early game along a little. Otherwise, you might want to simply pay the £2.99 to unlock the second world as soon as it's available, then take back some extra plants to alleviate the grind for more stars.
Now, credit where it's due - these additional objectives subtly transform the strategies you need to employ, and alleviate a little of that repetition. In some stages you'll only be able to spend a certain amount of sun on new plants, while others require you to win without losing more than a single unit.

The addition of Plant Food, too, is a smart idea that adds an extra layer of strategy. This is dropped by glowing zombies - or you can spend 1,000 in-game coins each time you need it - and it gives your plants a boost, the effects varying from one to the other.

Peashooters, for example, fire a ferocious volley of projectiles for a few seconds, Wall-nuts gain an extra-hard shell that makes them even tougher to crack, while the Cabbage-pult unleashes a wide area attack that can take down several zombies at once.

You can also spend that in-game cash on power-ups, pinching zombies between your fingers to pop their heads off, or tracing your finger through them to zap them with a fatal dose of electricity.

You'll need to use them judiciously, mind - they're costly, and you'll have to shell out real money if you want to use them more than once or twice every few stages.

Bonk's adventure

It's beautifully presented, too: polished, bright, and characterful, and the new plants have personality packed into each and every animation. I'm particularly fond of Bonk Choy, who aggressively thumps zombies within range of his leafy fists, finishing them off with a satisfying uppercut.

He is, however, a little overpowered. After experimenting with a few of the new plants, I hit upon a tactic whereby I'd place a Wall-Nut on every row, with a Bonk Choy just behind, and use any Plant Food I collected to protect that defensive wall from being munched away too quickly.

This strategy worked for an alarming number of levels, and became my reliable fail-safe when returning to some of the trickier star challenges, even as I endeavoured to experiment with new plants, for the sake of variety if nothing else.

Growing pains

What concerns me most about Plants vs Zombies 2 is that a large part of the original game's fanbase will find the difficulty level far too high without paying to ease the agony of repeated failures.

While just about everything available in the store from the start can be unlocked by simply playing through the game, I imagine younger gamers in particular will be pestering their parents for the money to buy some of the new plants.

Just seeing them in the store will be temptation enough for many, and that's before you take into account the intrusive adverts that periodically pop up, offering temporary reductions on certain items. That's business, I guess.

Seeds of doubt

But perhaps the most irritating thing is that the pacing of the game would probably be perfect if you weren't forced to go back and grind so much. New plants appear on the map at regular intervals, and yet you're often arbitrarily held back from accessing them, asked to cough up or play levels over and over until you're fed up with them.

It's a shame, because underneath it all, Plants vs Zombies 2 develops on the first game's ideas in smart and meaningful ways. Once you've unlocked the majority of the plants, it becomes much more enjoyable, and those who conquered the original with ease will relish the much-tougher challenge.

As a result, it comes recommended to more experienced players with a high tolerance for repetition. Beginners or newcomers, however, may find their wallets much lighter - or their blood pressure higher - by the time they've finished.
Plants vs Zombies 2
Reviewer photo
Chris Schilling | 16 August 2013
A worthy sequel to a much-loved original, but one that suffers from structural changes introduced to accommodate IAP
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Show: Latest | Oldest
Mar 2011
Post count:
derekg49 | 21:37 - 20 August 2013
Don't get how Mario & Luigi dream team can get a 9 but this gets a 7 - grinding was fun since it was new objectives.
Aug 2013
Post count:
Miguel Milanez | 12:38 - 18 August 2013
the only part I disagree is on dificulty. anyone who beat the campaign and minigames of pvz can tackle pvz2, and anyone who couldn't beat pvz should stick to it until they do.

but I agree that microtransactions ruined this game. if it cost $20 no one would buy it because it doesn't sit well in line with ios games (any angry birds cost $1 and even ridiculously overpriced final fantasy cost a little over $10), but the price to pay to play for free is too damn high.

first of all, I hate that you have to pay to have all plants. and to pay stupidly high amounts of money, for that matter: one single semi-useless plant can't cost $4, it's ridiculous. but I could ignore that if it didn't pop on my face every other time I finished a level...

but what I really hated about this game is that it completely erased all non-campaign fun from the original pvz and tries to make you stay by impeding your progress... for $20 on my pc, I would be rewarded every time I finished any of the 50 levels of the original campaign, take care of my plants in an aptly named zen garden and lose hours upon hours on minigames that put me in charge of the zombies, had me break vases to get new plants etc. now, I choose between playing the campaign or paying to progress into the campaign, with the same 50 levels but forced replayability to make'em last longer...

when pvz was a 9.5 out of 10, this one is merely a 7. because it got polished visuals, nice soundtrack and half the fun.
Aug 2010
Post count:
Funem | 15:57 - 16 August 2013
I would have paid
Jul 2012
Post count:
@RaveofRavendale | 12:17 - 16 August 2013
I totally agree with this. I was playing the game last night for a couple of hours, and while it was a ton of fun, I quickly hit a grind wall. I then had the choice to either pay money to unlock the walls, or go back and play past levels. I'm not the sort of person who wants to play the same levels over and over again, so therefore the only choice for me is to pay.

But then, I have no idea how much I'm going to have to pay over the course of the entire game to unlock all the grind walls... and it would greatly annoy me if I reached a point where I had spent, say,
Jun 2013
Post count:
mw1 | 11:18 - 16 August 2013
* the games I mentioned have all scored an 8 here on Pocket Gamer UK.
Jun 2013
Post count:
mw1 | 11:17 - 16 August 2013
While I agree with the writer that the mild grinding and the IAP somewhat brings down the nett enjoyment of this game, I believe the sequel should at least get a Silver Award, and a score of 8. At a score of 7, the writer is saying that games like Respawnables*, Lub vs Dub*, Monster Shooter 2*, and Draw Something 2* (to name a few that I have personally tried) are BETTER than P vs Z 2. The gameplay is still solid in this one, the writing is still as quirky and humourous, the music stays true to the original but has been adapted for the themes in this one, the graphics are still fantastic.

To address the grinding complaints, I think gamers would feel it more if they played them continously. Having the same plants, the same enemies, but different conditions - it's boring. I suggest that to keep things interesting, players should jump around the map a little more. It would seem like the map of 11 levels can actually sustain you for 50 games! Now that's impressive game writing, to me.

As the writer has discovered, however, the difficulty curve is a little punishing toward those who do not have sufficient skill. The very hardcore of gamers who take to this game like fish to water will find that they can finish the entire game without spending a single penny or in-game currency of gold. To the not-so-skillful, you can always grind to get more gold, try and try again, or just pay your way through. In a way I feel that PopCap are rewarding the people who are good at their game, not the other way round like IAP in some games do, like the buy-your-way-to-the-top kind of ranked games.

I reiterate that this game is not perfect, sure, but it is not deserving of a score of 7. Some more generous and loyal fans would argue for a 9, but I think an 8 would be fair.
Aug 2012
Post count:
s4ndm4n87 | 10:30 - 16 August 2013
Its fun, but not as fun as PvZ1. I bought PvZ1 on iphone, vita and steam and loved playing it multiple times and getting the vita plat. PvZ2 feels like its all geared towards IAPs. Levels are unecessarily hard in some cases so you have to use the power up. I haven t had to spend any money so far and Im half way through the pirate world.
I would gladly pay
Oct 2005
Post count:
jontintinjordan | 10:29 - 16 August 2013
The facts are that making a game free means 100x more people will play it, if only for a couple of minutes.

Getting people to buy IAP is harder as less than 5% of players spend any money, but the fact that 0.01% will spend over $100 means that the combination of a lot of players and a few paying a lot makes much more money for developers than charging the 'hardcore' $50 as used to be the case.
Jul 2012
Post count:
J249 | 10:12 - 16 August 2013
I thought the IAP bubble was on the verge of bursting with the release of XCom and a few other top games that eschew IAP's.

Sad to see this potentially great game proving the bubble is a lot more resilient.

I'd be interested to see how they work out the revenue model. Would they really lose so much cash by making all, or at least the majority of the content available with a single IAP of