Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Plants VS Zombies VS Mickey

I don't often write movie and game reviews, and I'm not going to start now. This is not really a review as much as a list of suggestions for improvements. The sort of suggestions I would make for internal projects in development the way I did when working in the games industry. Being a designer I almost always think "I wish they did x and didn't do y" when playing videogames, but rarely am I bothered to write it down. I don't expect the people at Popcap to read this and/or implement it. It's more of a cathartic excercise for myself after I've gone cold turkey from game design for nearly two years now. Obviously some of my suggestions won't make much sense to people who haven't played the game.

I'll start by saying that I adore Plants VS Zombies. Even Miron, who usually wouldn't play anything other than Zuma, got hooked and finished it. The game is adorable and addictive. Blake loves the end credits song with the dancing zombies and even attempted to say "Sunflower" as his first word (came out more like safa, but still a good effort). I finished every single challenge in the game on the Mac and recently got and beat the iPhone version. If you have an iPhone get it right now. It is hands down the best game on the apps store right now even with all of its imperfections. It's also great on PC and Mac.

And now come the suggestions. Firstly, aimed specifically at the iPhone version. Considering the game has been so faithfully recreated on the iPhone, why have they removed the mini-games and trophies? The mini-games still appear in the main story mode, but not in their own category with extra levels. Maybe there was a good reason to cut them out, but they were still sorely missed. The prices of plants in the shop haven't been adjusted, so now you have to grind for money in story mode levels which is slow and dull. One quick fix would be to just lower the prices of plants. I finished story mode twice and I'm still a few plants short. The zen garden is missing too, but I can see why it won't work very well on the iPhone.

The achievements are a nice addition, but I wish there were more of them and that they were a bit more sophisticated. A few of them are nice (finish a night level without mushrooms or a roof level without catapults), but there aren't enough of them. There is also no achievement for finishing the game for a second time, oddly enough.

Another problem is the fact that even though there's a huge variety of plants, some of them are overpowered and once you figure out which ones, you won't touch any of the others and the game will become ridiculously easy. It's still quite fun playing with each new plant and find out on your own which plants are more effective, but once you figured it out, it really hurts replayability. I wish there was a hard mode with more aggressive attack patterns and less plants slots so you would have to be far more careful in choosing which plants to pick. The endless mode on the PC/Mac provided this kind of frenzy in the later levels, but I wish the main game also had a bit of that. As it is now I rarely lose a level or even get close to that. As a result it's a fairly relaxing experience rather than an adrenaline rush.

Another problem is the lack of scoring. It doesn't matter if you conquer the level or just about scrape through, your efforts won't be recognized. A ranking system would be nice and will encourage people to replay levels for a better ranking. Ranking score will depend on how much sun you have left in the bank, how many of the plants you planted have survived, how many lawnmowers you still have left and how fast you cleared the level. Using the rake to kill the first zombie will hurt your score. Maybe add a special bonus objective for each level that goes towards the main score. Suddenly it's not about surviving the level, it's about mastering it. Obviously the ranking will also affect the cash reward for beating the level.

It could be argued that this would make the game too hardcore, but I disagree. A separate hard mode is optional, no one is forced to play it. And a ranking system can also be disregarded by people who just want to plough through the game.

Damn it. I almost managed to get through without any gardening puns. Sorry.

Anyway, it's a great game. I just want it to last longer and have features that will keep me coming back for more.

Bring on the sequel!


3/3 Update: I posted a link to this blog post on the PvZ Facebook group. This was the reply from whoever runs the page:

"Thank you for sharing! We did indeed read your suggestions/thoughts regarding the game - and we hope to be able to update the iPhone version in the future!"

10/3 Update: It looks like some people find my blog by googling a solution for the night level without mushrooms achievement. So here's a short guide. Don't bother with it before you finished the game once and unlocked lots of plants. Then from the quick play menu select the first and easiest night time level. Don't use any mushrooms, obviously. Use sunflower (and double sunflower) to pick up sun and use a combo of cheap and expensive plants. Corn is useful to slow down enemies. Use the squash on tougher enemies and those who get too close. You may want to use the garlic in the middle so then you only need to worry about defending four lanes instead of five. Lastly, make sure you buy the garden rake to give you more time to plant sunflowers. I always go for two lines of sunflowers at the very end (ten in total). Good luck!

1 comment:

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