Plants vs Zombies by PopCap Games is one of those elusive entities: a game that is fun to play and engaging over time for both kids and adults. The premise is somewhat R-rated: zombies have risen from the dead and are relentlessly stalking the residents of a suburban house to feast on their brains. The artwork and animation, however; are so frankly delightful that the sense is more of fun than fear. Most of the plants have a sort of Steamboat Willie bounce to their resting animation and all of them have faces that range from beaming to comically stern. The zombies are foolishly maladroit, with limbs twisted backward and body parts falling as they are struck with vegetables and fruit. The pay-off for completing the game is a music video featuring zombies and plants coming together for a backyard party.
Game play progresses as iterating levels. You start with just a few of the basic zombies attacking on a narrow front with a limited selection of plants to defend the yard. A new type of defensive plant is gained on almost every level, and new types of zombies are occasionally added, along with different environmental factors (fog, darkness, tombstones, etc.). To keep this pattern from getting too repetitive, Crazy Dave comes out as a narrator to help out (although, since he only speaks gibberish, he’s not very helpful). It’s hard to stop playing, since the levels don’t take very long, and you always want to see what your new plant is capable of doing. There are lots of levels, many unlockable side games, a zen garden, and you can buy plants and equipment from the back of Crazy Dave’s hatchback.
Zen garden did you say? You can set up a green house to grow plants which drop as prizes during game play. It doesn’t really do anything but produce a small amount of game money, but it is a pleasant little diversion. You can even buy a snail to help tend it.
After finishing the final boss level (if you can get the song out of your head), you can play the game again from the beginning with all the plant types unlocked, but Crazy Dave randomly picks some of the plants you have to use. Between the side games, zen garden, and the challenge of starting again with increasingly weirder plant choices, the replay value is mush higher than you would expect from what is essentially a pretty simple strategy game. There is good reason this shows up on so many Best Game of the Year lists — it’s certainly easily worth the $19.95 USD to get the full game.