Popcap, the perennial purveyors of preposterously popular casual games, were recently purchased by EA for an amount that - depending on how you count it - equated to bazillions of dollars. Even if you're not familiar with their work, that fact alone should be enough to convince you that these guys (and gals) know exactly what they're doing.
So when I introduce Plants vs. Zombies, then, and describe it as one of their best and most popular games, it shouldn't be too surprising to learn that it's something of a big deal.
The game, which is a unique twist on the ultra-popular Tower Defense genre, first debuted on PC back in 2009. Your goal, as a hapless homeowner at the end of days, is to defend your castle against a horde of humorous shambling zombies. Rather than the rakes, Molotov cocktails, and shotguns that you would usually associate with fending off a zombie apocalypse, the weapons of your defense are... plants.
Fortunately, these aren't your mother-in-law's Azaleas. Instead, the plants here are capable of spitting at, blocking, burning, or even eating the Zombies that would otherwise snack on your brains. You need to place them - strategically, of course - in one of five "lanes" of lawn that stand between you and death by Zombie.
So what's the Vita version bring to proceedings? Like the iOS version, it heavily leverages the touchscreen for the majority of its input. Touch a plant type, touch again to place it - etc. It also allows you to shake the Vita in order to collect the falling sun icons (the game's resource), which is a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, it's an easy way to gather up the many suns that can sometimes appear at once, but on the other, the Vita's not really very light and continually shaking it is both a bit uncomfortable and a bit risky. You are, after all, only holding the console with one hand (the other is constantly touching the screen), so the shake-shake-shake activity increases the chance of you throwing your Vita away. It's hardly a big deal but then, I never thought anyone would smash their TV by chucking a Wii-Remote at it, so it's worth mentioning.
So how does it play? Remarkably. Popcap's formula for success (small teams and many iterations over a long time) delivers the goods and no mistake. The learning curve is just right, the experience always fresh, and the extra bits and pieces that appear outside of the main "story" mode (there's no real narrative) augment and spice up the core tower defense mechanic.
Plants vs. Zombies also looks every bit as nice as you'd imagine the game's bold colour palette might render on the incredible Vita screen, with the high resolution nature of the OLED display also allowing the game to show every pixel the original designers intended. You can see the little faces of the sunflowers, the detail in the zombie's animations - hell, you can almost read the newspaper that one of them carries as he assaults your property. Sure, the simplicity of the action reveals little of the Vita's horsepower, but not every game needs to be a tech demo.
Otherwise, the game plays pretty much like every other version released so far. There's a bunch of levels, some bonus modes, and some mini-games that twist up the formula, but very little of it is new. If you already have this game, there's not much point in getting this version, and if you have another device that will play it (iPhone, iPad, PC), it's hard to justify paying the $21.50 asking price (it's about half that price everywhere else).
If you absolutely must have Plants vs. Zombies on your Vita, or haven't already got it on another platform, it's an excellent - if now familiar - experience. Just be aware that the asking price means it falls somewhere short of the deal of the century, even if twenty bucks isn't exactly expensive for a title of this quality.