Plants Vs. Zombies 2 (iPad): Review


This review comes from Digitally Downloaded.

review Let me just say from the outset; I’m not actually opposed to the free-to-play model. Understanding that free-to-play does not mean free, I’ve had a great time with those games that I have felt have put the model to effective use in providing players with a basic, entry-level version of the game for free, and then offering those who wish to invest in the game additional perks.

It doesn’t bug me because I do believe that developers deserve to be paid for their hard work, and if these games were actually free, then the developers wouldn’t be making many more of them. With all that out of the way, I do have a problem with free-to-play when it has been forced into a game that was never really designed around the model.

For example: Plants Vs. Zombies. Here is a game that was perfectly self-contained and carried with it a pricing model that allowed players to pay once, and get access to everything the game had to offer. With the monetisation out of the way, the developers were free to simply throw whatever they felt was fun at the players, and the result was a game that was entertaining beyond measure. And because it was so joyful, it attracted a broad audience and it was profitable for the developers, Popcap, despite there being no microtransactions involved whasoever.

Enter Plants Vs. Zombies 2. Here’s a game where every single design element has been built around microtransactions. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way; for instance, I do think Popcap has spent more time balancing this game to make sure players will continue to progress even if they don’t spend a cent of their own money then they have actually making the game. That’s a good thing in principle – it shows that the developers didn’t want players to walk away from the experience having felt nickel and dimed. Where things go wrong is the basic reality that it is so obvious that this game has been so carefully constructed around its monetisation model, and because that is where the development energy went, the game itself no longer has a soul.

Players get access to three worlds (with the initial release…). These worlds are big, bloated and generally become boring well before players get to the next one. The simple reason? They’ve been designed to keep players playing in the hope that they can be encouraged to spend some cash. Rewards are dolled out just often enough to act like a candy trail, and icons litter the playing field reminding players that they’re one tap away from even more goodness. But there’s not enough variety; not really. Just endless streams of levels to play for the sake of playing levels. It’s Candy Crush Saga all over again.

The primary cash sink in the game is in its virtual coins (thankfully there are just a few non-essential plants that are available only through real-cash purchase, and while they’re fun they’re also not overpowered). With those virtual coins players can purchase a major power-up that allows them to personally flick or pinch a zombie horde to oblivion en masse, or they can buy a magic leaf that superpowers a plant for a short period of time.

The game quickly falls into a rhythm then – as soon as a level starts, bring out a sunflower as your first plant (the sunflowers are the ones that produce the light energy that allows you to summon attack plants), then quickly pay for a super leaf to have that sunflower spit out a mass of energy. At that point you’ve got more than enough energy to get a major early advantage over the zombies and level design, and it’s relatively straightforward cruising from there.

Without the energy leaf the going is tougher initially, and some levels become very difficult indeed without that valuable time and energy at the start to lay the foundations of a sound defence. I’m not going to quite say it’s pay-to-win (especially since it’s possible to grind a few old levels to have enough of the virtual cash to buy a magic leaf, with no payment involved), but it does come dangerously close.

Notice how I’ve spent most of this review talking about the monetisation of the game? That’s not how a discussion of Plants Vs. Zombies should be. I should be talking about its awesome sense of humour, the beautiful, bright visual style, and the perfectly executed tower defence gameplay. All of that is still in the game, buried under the stuff that’s going to annoy a lot of people. It’s still a very, very good game. But because it is so heavily focused on how it is going to make money, it’s hard for me, as a player, to really connect with it.

I really don’t understand why PopCap and EA didn’t simply say “here you go, dozens of hours of fun; give us your $10 please.” It would have been a guaranteed hit at that price, and perhaps, just perhaps, it would have retained its soul.


Image credit: PopCap


  1. I really hate the fact that you have to pay for plants, and that they haven’t introduced more plants, and the artwork and design is not as good as the first game. In my opinion, this isn’t as good as the first. Sigh

  2. Good review, can’t say I disagree with any of it. I was reading on Touch Arcade that one of the reasons it was released in Aus/NZ first, was to see how players react to the IAP purchase model, so it may still be tweaked to at least be better balanced before international release. However given the whole game is designed around IAP, I can’t see them changing their minds altogether and turning into a paid title, which it should have been all along.

    Luckily lots of devs having been moving away from the ‘Freemium’ gaming model on iOS lately and releasing top quality paid games instead, but Popcap obviously didn’t get the memo about how much gamers hate being so obviously milked. I’ve already deleted it.

  3. I don’t much like the pricing model myself (I avoided Candy Crush Saga for this reason), but are there any plans to do a review of the game itself rather than just throw a hissy fit about pricing?

    • @Bob: Actually it is very telling if the review is ragging on too much about the pay system instead of actual gameplay. A good F2P game will let the gameplay shine and have the pay element woven in the background. Instead of an obvious in your face approach which diminishes the fun factor.

      It’s rather disappointing that from the looks of things the game has shifted away from what made the game fun (ie. messing around w/ various plant combinations as a stage progressed and you were given access to more plants + mini games + zen garden to extend the life) to relying completely on grinding for power-ups instead.

    • Like Bob, I’ve played this for the past few days without having to pay for anything. Paying for stuff is just effectively like paying to ‘cheat’ the game by unlocking special plants earlier than you would by playing through. I understand the frustrations of the in-built pay options, but the simple fact is that unlike other games you can very easily play on without paying for anything – and you don’t miss out on a thing.

      The gameplay is brilliant, it’s fun and full of laughs. It’s a brilliant sequel to an addictive game – a fact this review fails to mention.

      • “I should be talking about its awesome sense of humour, the beautiful, bright visual style, and the perfectly executed tower defence gameplay. All of that is still in the game, buried under the stuff that’s going to annoy a lot of people. It’s still a very, very good game.”

        Second last paragraph, Tom. The review quite explicitly says “it’s fun and full of laughs.”

        What you meant, I’m sure, is “the IAP model must have annoyed the critic, but it didn’t annoy me. I can’t say I agree with this review, but I understand where it’s coming from.”

  4. I understand why new games no one has heard of would go the F2P model just to get people trying the game but with PvZ the original was so well known they could of charged $10 easily and people would have purchased it even though other games people hesitate to pay 99c. I was sad when within the first few minutes the tutorial even prompted people to go to in app purchases. When a tutorial suggests it as part of the game play I knew what to expect for the rest of the game and made a decision right then to spend zero money on it. I will still play once in a while though. Also the 3 power ups u can buy with coins are so annoying to use I think the game wouold of been better without them which shows they were only added to encourage in app purchase of coins.

  5. What a refreshingly honest review of yet another depressingly cynical game that appears to have had its heart and soul eaten up and shat out by greedy idiots.

    Please, please, if there is a god, have those idiots make less money from this than they did from the first one.

  6. what a stupid review. I’ve played this game for 20+ hours now and not once had I have to pay any money. The game is easy enough to not have to.

    its free. Play it and see how wrong this editorial is.

  7. I totally agree with this review – whilst the game itself is generally a lot of fun, the IAP aspect is built in to the design. Already, I’m finding that some parts of the game are simply there to entice you to buy extras. I’ve been playing for a day or so, and am finding this really detracts from enjoying the gameplay.

    It’s such a shame, as I loved the first version, but feel less engaged with this one.

  8. I’m pretty much in agreement with the review. I was also really disappointed with the graphics and layout of the game. Where the original version made really good use of the ‘i’ architecture pvz2 looks jumbled and the field seems cramped. I read an interview where Shigeru Miyamoto said he wanted Zelda to be like a miniature garden you could carry in your pocket (or something to that effect..) and that was the magic of pvz for me. This game feels like it was made by a different team and is very ‘samey’. I would have happily stumped up $10 buck for a refresh of the original that incorporated some new plants and game play. Bring back the zen garden.

  9. Where is the survival mode? Where is the endless mode? This game is trash without it.

  10. PvZ 1 is in my top 5 games ever!

    The reason? There was a blend of charming characters, visual & audio presentation and a finely honed gameplay.

    Gameplay was king! You had the tools (ie plants) at your disposal. It was YOUR timing, judgement and ability to think on the fly that brought the satisfaction of victory.

    PvZ 2? Well, I quite like the new graphics and I love most of the new plants and zombies (except that bastard parrot!)
    I will state that I miss the upgrade mechanism from part 1 and cattail was my favourite plant!

    What I do not like is some of the game play mechanics.
    There are way too many challenges that are above victory through skill and has been tweaked to force you to at the very least consider you to buy IAP.

    Agree or not but this has severely hurt the original game’s premise.

    On the IAP, I’m in the corner of buying the game and all the content outright.
    I will state this as a personal opinion but of those real money plants are MEANT to be in the game. Snowpea & Jalepeno? Come on now!!!

    This game will be successful and enjoyable. It will however not best the original as it has forsaken raw gameplay for profit.

  11. Agreed. Played the first level without spending money and without using plant food or cheats (that gestures thing, it’s cheating). It starts fun but grow boring very soon. There are 10 levels, some mini games, and then before seeing the next world you have to make 35 stars. It means playing again for 35 times the levels you just played with some quirks. In theory it could be fun, but it is always the same “produce a lot of sun” or “don’t plant here”. The first world attack plants are pretty much all the same and playing 35 levels was really boring. After that you get to the second world only to discover all the keys you dropped in that 35 boringness are useless, and you start over with tutorial like levels with one wave of zombies. Yeah dressed like pirates, but the gameplay is always the same.

    The game is pretty easy and only children will have the need to spend virtual or real money here, so it’s a big fail also for f2p fans, which I’m not.

    I can’t see this game as fun and neither as money making. A 1$ price tag would have got more cash to the publishers probably. At least it would have saved them the shame. You will probably never hear about pvz3. Sad.

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