City 16's Top 10 Games of 2009: #3

Nazis and aliens continued to have a bad time of things in 2009 gaming. The undoubted losers of the year however were the zombies. The sheer proliferation of games with zombies to kill was staggering; downloadable titles like Burn Zombie Burn or Killing Floor, as well as a couple of others whose name I can’t even be bothered to look up; big releases like Left 4 Dead 2; even DLC additions to non-zombie related games – I’m looking at you Borderlands.

Hopefully we’re done with zombies for a while now. It’s time for a new enemy to emerge. I’m hoping for rabid monkeys myself.

Except we’re not quite finished with zombies yet, because at number 3 is:

Plants vs. Zombies


Okay, this is a little awkward. Really I should be throwing some of my most detailed and enthusiastic praise behind the games in the Top 3. Unfortunately, I’ve said most of what I would have said about Plants vs. Zombies in this post from back in July. Actually it’s a little bit concerning that this is the really the first game in this list that I’d actually had a detailed look at… What the hell have I been writing about these last few months?

In that last post I mentioned just how much there was to do in the game, and just how much content there was left for me to experience. Typically, a few days after posting it, I was done with the game. I hadn’t completed it by any means, in fact I don’t think I ever even unlocked Endless Survival, which seemed to be where many people really put the hours in. Instead I just seemed to reach a natural conclusion; the point at which I’d had my measure of the game and was ready to move on. Maybe I’ll go back to it one day. I probably won’t.

Still PvZ took up the majority of my summer, even running in the background while I was elsewhere, leaving my snail to gather gold from my virtual garden, making it the only game I’ve ever played in which I’ve gold farmed. The reason for such an obsession? If I had to choose I’d cite the wealth of options you had to complete each level.

Unlike PixelJunk Monsters (itself a stripped down version of the tower defense formula), which requires the right units to be placed in exact positions to have any hope of success, Plants vs. Zombies may have units that are better suited to a particular level but just as important are personal preference and experimentation. The game is never so difficult as to force you to use an optimum build and so lets you try things at your own pace. It provides a challenge, certainly on some of the mini games, but that challenge is never insurmountable.

When I wrote about AaaaaA! I mentioned how well the developers had been able to take their idea and run with it; producing a wealth of ideas that intrinsically fit within the concept of the game (actually I don’t think I did write that, but I’m sure I implied it… I meant to). PvZ has this in spades, every single element fitting around the framework of the initial idea. From the almanac, complete with plant and zombie descriptions, to Crazy Dave and his car boot right through to the little notes the zombie’s leave you between chapters. It remains charming throughout, possibly the only zombie game of the year that was, all in all, thoroughly nice.

It’s this sheer personality that actually lead to some of the more interesting ‘tactical’ decisions. Sure the Cat-Tails might be out and out the most powerful plant in the game but choosing it would mean dropping the potato masher, which explodes with a nice Kapow! Do you choose function or favour? Well, actually, you choose both which is what leads to you pursuing the upgrades to the number of plants you can hold and thus dipping into the games side modes.

The Zen Garden is useful, but requires daily attention so only viable for those really in the grasp of obsession. Luckily there are plenty of ways to earn money outside of that, with plenty of puzzles and mini games waiting for you. The I, Zombie mode is what seemed to garner the most praise, pitting you as the zombies against a crop of (cardboard) plants. My real favourite, however, was the Vasebreaker mode – a pleasing mix of random chance and tactical planning. The best moments came when you hit open a vase to reveal an exploding jack-in-the-box zombie, which in turn cracked open more before you were soon overrun and breaking open all the vases in the desperate hope that you’d come across some more plants. That mode perfectly captured the fine line between feeling in control and blind panic… And it was just a small mini-game aside from the main adventure.

At this point I’ve probably mined the depths of what I can actually say about the game. Some key points: It’s good, you should buy it. Now I’m going to take heed of one of the game’s primary lessons and finish on a song.

Tomorrow: Things get penultimate.


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