Way back in the ancient smartphone days of 2009, a group called PopCap Games offered people the fun little tower-defense mobile app Plants vs. Zombies. That handheld cartoon zombie-popper was so beloved that the game developers expanded the fun into the console world a few years later with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.
If you’re seeing a similarity between the titles Garden Warfare and, say, Modern Warfare, well, you get the idea of what kind of shooter the developers wanted to spoof with their broader array of seed-spitting shoot-outs and multiplayer action. Which brings us to the newest game entry in his franchise: Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville.
So, now the question is this: Does the new PvZ experience smell as sweet as the past well-pruned garden games, or is the battling a bit more zombie scented? Stick around and we’ll see.
This is actually the second sequel in the PvZ series. So you may be wondering why PopCap didn’t just call it Garden Warfare 3. The answer is that there is so much new gameplay seeded into this blooming thing that it simply deserved its own brand-spanking-new nameplate.
For those who have played the past games in one form or another, you could easily think of this as the latest attempt by the diabolical franchise nemesis Dr. Zomboss to infect the world with zombieness. And several mini-game quests here do play to that idea.
But Battle for Neighborville isn’t so much a single story-driven adventure as it is a collection of arenas, quests and new open-world areas. And each has its own sown-in bits of character-driven humor to keep younger players engaged.
As for those quirky characters, a lot of them return here. Seven recognizable core classes from the plant side and seven from the zombie side show up. And, of course, each has its own pea-popping, chomping or bomb-chucking attack, along with special abilities that give each kind of character its unique offensive, defensive and support capabilities.
On top of that, we have six new characters/classes joining the ranks (three on each side). The plants get a ninja mushroom called Night Cap, for instance, who can go invisible for short periods and secretly slide up on enemies. And on the zombie side, 80s Action Hero is one of the new guys. He can go all Rambo on foes with his bow, homing rockets and ridable missiles.
Each side also gets a brand-new type of class. For the plants, it’s something called Acorn. He can transform from a tiny acorn into a giant oak tree that thumps around with a slew of new abilities; and he can house up to three fellow acorn players, like a big moving fortress that rains down destruction. On the zombie front, we get Space Cadet, which, like Acorn, can turn into a fortress attacker. In this case it’s a zombie spacecraft that can protect up to three other Space Cadets and zippity-zap a garden with space-zombie laser blasts.
Gamers can choose to be on either side of the plant/zombie conflict. And the various player-versus-player modes from past titles, such as Team Vanquish (a sort of death match), Suburbination (a king of the hill game) and others, return here with a load of sprawling new maps. There’s also a new competitive mode called Funderdome Arena that pits two teams of four in best-of matches.
The big addition here, though, is all the new player-versus-environment (PvE) fun. PopCap has created four massive, open-world sandbox areas designed to send players off on fun exploration quests. Along the way, they’ll fend off computer-generated attackers, find treasure, solve thought-provoking puzzles, careen through platforming challenges and fulfill bounties on unique enemies.
Plants get to explore a place called Mount Steep, a Wild West-like mountain area. Zombies make their way through Weirding Woods, an overgrown former campground. Each zone also offers an epic multi-phase boss battle, and they’re chock-full of activities that can be played alone or with local friends.
On top of all that, there’s a social hub called Giddy Park, where you’ll spend your time between matches and modes. It’s a great place to test new abilities, explore character customizations, take amusement park rides, visit a shooting range, play musical tunes and minigames, etc.
Yep, there is indeed enough packed into this game to deserve a whole new title.
So, is there a potentially rotten, smelly side of things? Well, not more than a whiff.
It’s true that this shooter feels more like a shooter than the early games did. But even then, all the guns, turrets, snapping jaws, fists, mines, lasers and explosives feel cartoony and much more kid-friendly than other games in this category. Instead of blood, goop and swear words spraying everywhere, there’s an abundance of giggles and greenery here (with an occasional dabble of gangrene and a dash of zombie plumber backside).
In fact, the biggest parental grumble here is probably the fact that no matter what you play, you must always be connected to the internet. Even in areas where there are no other live players to be found, or where junior is playing with a pal in the same room, you can only get there with an online connection.
Yet another foul plot of Dr. Zomboss, I’m sure.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.