Words like free-to-play, monetization, and microtransactions are often treated as dirty words in mobile gaming, and it was natural that many were worried when it was announced that the second instalment of the Plants vs. Zombies game would be driven by such a mechanic. Happily, the way that Plants vs. Zombies 2 has incorporated the microtransaction model is non-intrusive to the point of being invisible, to the point where the player has no obligation to spend a penny whatsoever to enjoy the full range of gameplay and features on offer.
The gameplay is simple and immediately recognizable from the first game: the player plants various weaponized flora, purchased with sun energy, which fire at the attacking zombies that come lurching across the screen. Each plant has its own power level and specific type of defence mechanism. The challenge of the game is to use the right plant under the right strategic conditions, taking into account the power and movement style of the enemies as well as the level terrain, to build the best defences. From the basic seige-defence mechanic many great variations are born.
Most of the plants that appeared in the first game are back in the second, and the few new ones aren't particularly notable (saving maybe lightning reeds, who shoot arcs of electricity at the zombies). Where the real innovation can be found is in the zombies. There are cowboy zombies and pirate zombies, piano playing zombies, and zombies rolling out in exploding barrels. Each have a different style of movement and new powers to test your strategic abilities. The level design is also kicked up a notch and provides new challenges, like water squares that you cannot cross (but swashbuckling zombies can). The occasional mini-games are also back, allowing welcome breaks to just fire away at a steady stream of enemies, old-school Space Invaders style.
Also introduced in Plants vs. Zombies 2 are a couple of different types of special attacks. Killing special zombies gives you bags of plant food, which allow your plants to unleash a massive blast to get rid of a wave of enemies or get you out of a pinch. There are also special touch-based attacks that cam similarly clear your screen during a hard spot, which you can employ by spending in-game coins.
Here, and only here, is where the monetization comes into effect. You can earn plant food and coins organically through the game, or you can buy them. It's possible to buy these powers ups mid-battle, and the touch screen attacks in particular are so intense that they make ever the hardest levels incredibly easy. In fact, using these types of attacks too frequently harms the challenge, the strategy, and the fun of the game. It is possible to get all the way through without ever once making a purchase. Overusing the power-ups feels like cheating. It is this dynamic that effectively keeps monetization from at all feeling intrusive.
Once you've completed the game, you're encouraged to revisit levels you've previously beaten with new and more difficult challenges in place, and even these constraints are entirely possible to beat by only using the power-ups that come naturally in the game. Effectively beating these harder levels allows you to open up new paths on the map and brand new levels. This is the only other moment where a microtransaction is possible: you can also unlock these places without beating the harder versions of the levels by just buying it. However, the replay value is high, the constrained levels are fun, and the difficulty is tuned up very naturally, so it is entirely possible to access all the bonus content without spending everything.
Charmingly animated and remarkably strategic, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a worthy follow-up to the addictive original. The replay value is even higher than before, with new challenges at every turn. While there's always the temptation to buy yourself out of a tough spot, skill and brainpower are just as effective and ultimately provide a more rewarding game experience.
GameDynamo's Score for Plants vs. Zombies 2 (Mobile)
Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet, and editor based in Toronto, Ontario. She writes about comic books, video games, combat sports, sadomasochism, feminism, and difficult music for a number of publications, both in print and online, and currently serves as the Managing Editor of Canada Arts Connect, as well as the Reviews Editor of This Magazine. She also has published books - DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains and Thumbscrews, which won a Robert Kroetsch Award.
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