It’s Friday and that means game day. I know bottom line readers have that call to take and need to get on with things, but this is Plants vs Zombies and you might want to read the entire review to make sure the zombies don’t eat your brains. Just in case, however:
Plants vs Zombies is a must-buy:
- It will make you much smarter
- It requires more skills than chess
- It doesn’t crash
- It channels your spending urges into the game
There are a few shortcomings, but mostly they’re trivial.
In addition, I discuss why you don’t want your wife to know where you keep your best Scotch, p-zombies, why chess has fallen behind as the world’s most cerebral game and the zombie pacifying properties of catnip.
Dancing with the Undead
It’s game day.
If you’ve been following this blog you know I devote Friday’s to game reviews. You also know I’ve been having to fly under Carol’s radar because she and her Siamese Rescue buddies can’t wait for me to relapse into my game addiction so they can have another intervention.
It turns out they’ve discovered that rescuing addicted gamers may be more fun than rescuing cats. This isn’t because they don’t have to feed me or clean my litter (although to listen to Carol talk you would think I’m more high maintenance than any cat–or dozen cats), but because they get to have this big party afterward.
That’s right, party hearty cat rescue. I found out that after my last intervention, while I was recovering from a migraine I didn’t have before the intervention–not to mention the sore neck from where the Pentecostal minister smacked me in the head with the heel of his hand when I didn’t fall unconscious the instant he laid hands on me–the women rushed the minister out the door as soon as they realized no one invited him and cracked open my two prized bottles of 30 year old Glencraig scotch that I was saving for my wake or for a moment of extreme desperation. They threw quite the party.
Boy, will they be in for a shock next time. From now on I’ll be hiding my scotch at an undisclosed location somewhere in Travis County and the best they’re going to find will be cheap gin and Kahlúa. Not the real Kahlúa, mind you, but an off-the-shelf knockoff I found in the dumpster behind a Walmart. Let them celebrate with that.
And I hope the cream curdles.
But ever since the intervention I’ve tried a different approach to gaming. I now call it research.
For instance, I took a bunch of screen shots to show Carol how thorough my research was to date and talked about how great this review is going to be when I finished. So now she thinks I was really just applying myself to writing rather than pissing away my life on a stupid game. So far so good.1
Plants vs Zombies (PvZ) is simply awesome. Jenny Manytoes likes to sit on my shoulders and watch those suckers go down. She even bats at the screen with her right paw (the one with eight toes) when a zombie gets too close to a lawn mower.
When I first started playing it was because Elizabeth Emmert, the first reader I know of other than Clark, who are the only two readers I know of, said that PvZ was a mind suck. Originally I agreed with her, but now I think this game will make players really smart in spite of themselves. That’s right. Believe it or not:
Plants vs Zombies is educational
Philosophers talk about zombies. Really.
If you talk about zombies you can be a philosopher. And you can count this game as a philosophical study in zombie consciousness (or lack of it). In fact, this is the tactic I’m probably going to try with Carol when I continue to play the game after I finish this review.
I know, I know. You think I’ve been in the feedlot gathering bag loads to serve you (and I don’t mean grain). But it’s true. Philosophers can’t get enough of zombies. However, just to make sure you don’t think they’re discussing garden variety movie zombies, they call them “p-zombies” (for philosophical zombies).
Admittedly, you can’t convince dubious parents or skeptical spouses of the intellectual value of p-zombies, or PvZ-zombies if all you talk about is brains, blood spatter and exploding heads. No, you have to throw in phrases like “brain states” and “autonomous verses automatic behavior” and “dualism verses physicalism.”
And if you really want to convince them you’re serious, you should throw in whole sentences like: “When you compare zombie and plant behavior you will notice that, with the exception of ambulatory behavior, they seem virtually isomorphic; totally lacking the qualia we typically associate with sentient beings, even, I might add, beings we suspect of possessing limited sentience–beings such as the game’s solitary example of comparative consciousness, Dave the salesman.”
Here’s the best part. You don’t even have to know what that means. Chances are no one else in your household will either. Unless, of course, you were born into a family of philosophers and then you probably grew up talking like that anyway and don’t need my help.2 In that case, sorry kid, you aren’t going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. But the good news is, your parents are probably so busy discussing the cultural impact of L’écriture et la différence or the devolution of aesthetics in modern art since Warhol and Lichtenstein that they won’t even notice what you’re doing with your iPad.
PvZ will teach you things about plants you never knew existed. I certainly never knew plants could do so many things.
Did you know plants can pop and butter their own corn? Did you know that some pea pods can shoot as many as four peas at a time? I didn’t. I also learned that mushrooms only come out at night and that some walnuts grow so big you can’t vault over them.
The most important thing I learned is that daisies in bloom pollenate money. I tried to talk Carol into investing our bank account in daisies for the back yard but she still seems skeptical. When I wouldn’t let it go (those are her words) she said that our dog Bandit and Neanderthal dog Chutney would only rip them up, and we’d lose our investment. Maybe she has a point, but I still think it’s worth a try.
If you still aren’t convinced your brain will grow bigger if you can win before the zombies rip your skull open and gobble them down, then consider this:
Plants vs Zombies evolved from chess as the next step in the evolution of truly cerebral gaming
Even I didn’t realize this until Carol had my back to the wall and I felt compelled to explain that I wasn’t pissing away my life with a pointless game. “No really,” I told her. “It’s more like chess than a stupid blow ’em up computer game.”
I thought I was off the hook until she asked me, “Would you care to explain that?”
If I was being truthful I would have said, “Of course not. I just didn’t think you’d call my bluff.”
But, as readers should know by now, after twenty five years of marriage, I could read her mind and I knew she was asking something different. What she was really asking was, “What kind of stupid rationalization do you think you can try to pawn off on me this time?”
So I pulled every possible comparison I could think of (from a place on my body very near to my hip pocket) and began to list the reasons. And verily, readers, behold, I had a revelation. PvZ is, indeed, more cerebral than chess. You just don’t know it when you play because you have to reach so far down into your thought process that you aren’t even aware you’re thinking.
So let’s look at the rules of PvZ (or Chess3 as I now like to call it):
- You begin with a board composed of squares, just like chess. Only with PvZ the board is 5 squares by 9 squares and it’s a lawn.
Now most of you will realize immediately that this takes very sophisticated lateral thinking because the squares aren’t laid out in a square as they are in chess.
The PvZ variant chessboard
- You proceed through a number of challenge matches, much like tournament chess.
- You choose your pieces, each of which makes a specific move, and assemble them on the board/lawn into strategic formation that you think will best counter your computer opponent’s moves.
Starting to feel familiar?
Only in chess, you don’t get to choose your pieces. Chess chooses them for you and even tells you where to put them. Are you beginning to catch on?
Some of the pieces are good for general offense, some for general defense, and some provide countermeasures to patented zombie moves. Some recharge your plant’s energy, which makes them very important.4
Choose your pieces from an assortment of plants,
each with its own specific move.
- Next the computer selects its players; only, beware, it keeps a few in reserve to spring upon you as a surprise. This feature tests your mental acuity and flexibility.
The computer selects its players
but keeps ringers hidden offscreen
- The game progresses though several scenarios, forcing you to adapt your strategy. You may play in the front yard, on the pool, at night, in foggy weather and even on the roof. Each scenario requires a different plant selection. The plant (chess piece) you don’t choose could very well be the plant that would’ve saved your brains.For the rest of each match you have to outwit zombies who never seem to go away.
Before each match is over, all hell breaks loose.
Even after you win every match the game offers lots of fun options. You can play mini-games with different challenges, or take on the zombies in survival mode.
PvZ offers a number of mini-games
One mini-game is Bowling for Zombies.
With the right spin you can take out several at once
You can even play adventure mode more than once, and on return trips, the game handicaps you. PvZ chooses three plants at random for each match, whether the plants are useful or not. Half the time this cuts the number reduces the number of useful plants to six instead of nine.
If you’ve learned to play like the Bobby Fisher of PvZ, however, this should make the matches more fair.
Clearly, the makers of PvZ have surpassed chess as a game of skill and strategy. No wonder the zombies want your brain. If you can master this, your game must be bigger and more delicious than Bobby Fisher’s. And you can tell that to parents or dubious spouses.
Plants vs Zombies doesn’t crash. Ever.
This is the most stable game I’ve played on the iPad, and that’s saying a lot. Most games crash once a session, or screw up before you can finish a level, and some, such as Farm Frenzy 2, crash so often I have to reboot at least once a session to finish playing a match.
PvZ could be the Joe McGinnity of iPad games.
At least it hasn’t crashed while I played it, and I’ve even gone through the adventure twice, all of the mini-matches, most of the mini-games and survived all but the last match of survival mode. I’ve purchased every item in the shop and I’ve earned money to burn. This brings me to another reason to buy the game.
You can make the zombies dance
Once you make it through the first adventure, and win the final match with the giant zombie king, the zombies will show you their music video. They sing and dance up a storm, possibly because they have Michael Jackson’s zombie to choreograph their routines.
Even Carol laughed when I showed her the video. The next day she insisted she was laughing over the fact that I would take that much joy from a brain dead fake music video with zombies singing in high-pitched voices. But I watched her. She was laughing at the dancing zombies.
Plants vs Zombies offers alternatives to conspicuous consumption during a global recession
You may not save the economy but you can save your personal account. Just channel the urge to spend (at least for a week) into Crazy Dave’s Twiddy Dinkies shop. As you proceed through the matches, you earn money to buy cooler plants. Mind you, this is virtual money. You have to earn it but you can spend like crazy with no guilt.
There is a catch, however. Just like in the game, some of the plants aren’t that useful and you need to know how to spend your money wisely. So I’ll give you some hints to help you hone your PvZ skills:
- Buy the rake every three levels. For $200 zombie dollars it provides a useful distraction to give you more time to establish your perimeter.
- Whenever you’re have the option to buy more spaces for more plants, buy the spaces. Never take a plant over a space.
- The corn cob cannon is the second most expensive and least useful plant. It eats the most energy, takes up two squares, the Zombies gobble it up right away and you cant protect it with a flower pot. Buy the more expensive potato first. Buy every thing else before the cob cannon.
- Buy the pool vacuum and roof sweeper as soon as you have the money.
- The cat tail will take anything out of the air.
I do have a few small complaints about the game that the Pop Cap team might want to consider in future upgrades.
Plants vs Zombies needs more multicultural diversity
Watching this game you’d think all zombies are ash-faced white guys. That’s right, not a single Hispanic, Asian or Native America zombie in the lot. There’s only one Black Zombie, and that’s Michael Jackson, who doesn’t count because he spent so much money trying not to be. Even the running back’s a white guy. What decade are the Pop Cap guys living in?
No Milla Jovovich
This is a game about zombies and what would a zombie war be without one guest appearance by Milla Jovovich?
Purists might argue that her zombies technically aren’t zombies cause they’ll eat anything, not just brains. But that’s eighty movies thinking. Today’s zombies were raised in the McDonalds generation. Any trash food will do.
Besides, for a chance to fight zombies with Milla, I won’t nitpick about who’s really a zombie and who is just the byproduct of a deadly T-virus meant to raise corporate profits. We’re talking Milla. Even Carol gets why any red-blooded zombie fearing American male wants to fight next to Milla. Even red-blooded zombie fearing American Gay males want to fight next to Milla. And Kylie Minogue. And the ghosts of Yma Sumac and Tammy Faye.
Now that I mention Milla and Kylie and Tammy Faye, I realized there are no female zombies in PvZ either. These guys really need to expand their target markets.
No catnip plant
Personally, I don’t mind but Jenny is pretty adamant about the need for a catnip plant that will make the zombies roll on the ground, get the leaves all over their fur and go to sleep in what human stoners would consider to be a marijuana-like haze. She considered the possibility of kitty zombies too, but she really doesn’t like the idea of kitty zombies. She has to share enough of her cat food with the living.
Jenny rates Plants vs Zombies
Jenny Manytoes rolls over on her back and makes biscuits in the air whenever she hears “Brains” from the game soundtrack. Anyone who knows cats will tell you this is pretty close to a state of religious kitty ecstasy.