Plants vs. Zombies (DS)

Games like Plants vs. Zombies are why Nintendo executive Reggie Fils-Aime is worried about the iOS app pricing model.

Plants vs. Zombies

Publisher: PopCap
Format: Nintendo DS (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC, Mac, iOS
Price: $19.99
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: PopCap
Release Date: 2011-01-18

Reggie Fils-Aime is not scared of Angry Birds. Games like Plants vs. Zombies are what have him worried.

When Plants vs. Zombies was released on the iPhone/iPad App Store in February 2010, it cost $3.00. When it arrived on the Nintendo DS in January 2011, it cost $19.99. There is no appreciable difference between the two versions -- as a matter of fact, an argument could be made that the iPhone version is better. The price difference is entirely a matter of format, and the fact is that a 20 dollar game on the DS looks like just about the same sort of bargain as a three dollar game on the iPhone. Sooner or later, people are going to figure this out. Fils-Aime is right to be worried.

That the Nintendo DS edition of Plants vs. Zombies remains Plants vs. Zombies is both its greatest strength and most glaring weakness. As of the writing of this review, Plants vs. Zombies has been available on PCs for almost two years, it's been on iOS for a year, and it's been a downloadable Xbox game for five months. There is almost nothing new to be found on the DS edition, no true reason (unless, somehow, you're a mini-game completist) to own it over the others. In terms of visuals, it's probably the worst of the bunch -- while the zombies that pass by behind the top screen's progress bar are cute and well-drawn, they're window dressing covering up the lo-fi visuals of the bottom screen. Granted, the graphics on the playable portion of the screen are about as good as they could be given the resolution limits of the DS, but there's a noticeable downgrade from any of the other versions.

And remember: This is the most expensive version.

As hinted at previously, though, the idea that the DS edition of Plants vs. Zombies is merely a faithful and well implemented port works in its favor. The tower defense genre wasn't exactly a "hardcore" pursuit before Plants vs. Zombies arrived -- its most celebrated member to that point was the free, flash-based Desktop Tower Defense, after all -- but Plants vs. Zombies pulled off the nifty little trick of making tower defense even more casual (this is the sort of thing that PopCap tends to manage almost effortlessly). What makes a typical tower defense exercise a true challenge is the pathfinding aspect of the game -- not only do you have to overpower the oncoming horde with ammunition, but you also have to force them to take the longest route possible to whatever it is that you're trying to defend. Plants vs. Zombies removes this aspect of the game entirely, replacing it with a tremendous number of choices of defending plants that can be used to stop a horde of enemies that only knows how to travel in straight lines.

Instead of a single funnel spot that the player has to divert all around the board, the zombies can be tackled line by line, as they appear, as long as you've got enough sunlight (the game's currency) to do something about the type of zombie that's just shown up. The end result is a matter of hoarding resources followed by overwhelming the enemy with firepower . . . neither of which are new conceits, but both are made more manageable by the approach.

Hardcore strategy fans will be put off by the softened difficulty that the Plants vs. Zombies approach offers; a much larger group of people will find it welcoming. The colorful visuals and quirky, kid friendly take on the undead will draw more people in, making for a game that the whole family can play (which the DS version encourages by offering download play -- a smart inclusion that actually helps the perceived value of the game).

But again, none of this is new.

What is new? There's a mini-game that actually shows up in the story mode as well, in which you have to yell at your plants to wake them up, taking advantage of the DS microphone (don't worry, quiet types, blowing into the microphone works fine as well). There's a minigame that asks you to hit "home runs" with basketballs, knocking them past the zombie "pitcher". There's a minigame in which you use the stylus to dodge the wrenches thrown by the "Zomboss" as you try to machine gun (er, "gatling pea") him down to the ground. And there's a minigame in which you're given a set number of bomb plants with which you need to destroy all the oncoming zombies. Perhaps most appealing is the opportunity to be the zombies in the download play versus mode, though experienced players may find that playing as the zombies is truly preferable to the plants, particularly when playing the mode that forces the player to use whatever plant shows up on the conveyor belt.

Is that enough for someone who's already played and loved another version of Plants vs. Zombies? Not likely. This version of Plants vs. Zombies is for an audience that hasn't played the game, despite the exclusive bonuses, and that crowd will be just fine with it. It's a very good game, and the people who haven't played it and do buy it will probably enjoy it. If you have any other version, however, just skip it. You'll spend most of your play time wondering why you paid so much for something you got far cheaper somewhere else.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.