originals\ Aug 17, 2013 at 10:00 am

Week in Mobile: Plants vs. Zombies 2 is the sequel you've been waiting for

Plants vs. Zombies 2 small

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“It’s About Time” is probably the most fitting name PopCap could pick for Plants vs. Zombies 2. Four years is a long time to wait when your game’s popularity grows as much as it has with this tower-defense game, but fans shouldn’t complain – not even about the exclusive first launch on iOS. PopCap has dished out a lot of content with this iteration.

This is, first of all, the same Plants vs. Zombies you know and love. Crazy Dave is here. He’s got a new time-traveling car named Penny whose IQ is probably a little higher than his is. And a lot of the same plants, like the peashooter and wall-nut, have returned as well.

The sequel is very different, though, and not just because you travel to Ancient Egypt, the Pirate Seas, and the Wild West. (It looks like PopCap is adding some kind of futuristic/alien world next.) Players can now pinch, toss, and zap zombies away onscreen with power-ups that run on a short timer, albeit one that lasts long enough for you to do some real damage. I used them a lot less than I thought I would — they just make eliminating zombies too easy.

Using those abilities costs coins because, yes, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a free-to-play game. That’s not so bad, though. The developer estimates that 95 percent of it is IAP-free, and that’s about right. The game showed me the store and then didn’t say a peep about it again, and I kept clear. But you can purchase stacks of coins, special plants, and upgrades like an extra seed slot or opt for a bundle instead.

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Players earn plenty of coins by killing zombies the normal way, and the extra change can buy plant food as well, though that drops naturally during play. That’s the stuff that turns an ordinary plant into a real beast for a few seconds. Peashooters become turrets; potato mines sprout instantly and spawn two more fully matured allies; and snapdragons spray flames everywhere. Once again, I have too many favorites. It’s fun experimenting to see how they react to plant food.

Zombies are a little more cunning this time around. The coneheads and bucketheads march on, but they bring new friends with them, like Ra zombies that try to steal sun as it appears or pirate captains with parrots that pluck plants from the ground. Each themed area feels incredibly distinct — from the level layout (like mine carts in the Wild West) right down to enemy demeanor. And while gameplay still starts out slow (I wish PopCap had included a “fast-forward” button for those sluggish opening moments), it intensifies fast. You’ll need to split your focus between tapping on falling sun, maintaining your offense and defense, grabbing coins and plant food and keys, and more. The pace almost overwhelmed me at first until I got used to it. Now I love it.

And now, playing this in HD on my iPad Mini, I can’t imagine going back to PC. You can put just about anything on a touch device, but it rarely belongs there. Plants vs. Zombies does.

For those who thought the original was too easy, Plants vs. Zombies 2 features a lot of varied challenges. Most completed levels expand into a three-star grab, where each star poses a different challenge, many of which have multiple requirements — such as only using a certain number of plants or sun, preventing zombies from trampling flowers, and so on. Sometimes the game picks the usable plants for you, hands over command of a coconut cannon army to beat a high score, or provides free access to plants via a conveyor belt (no solar power needed).

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World maps (which are gorgeous) also contain branching paths whose gates require keys to unlock, and they house single-challenge levels, permanent bonuses (like a shovel bonus that gives back some sun with every uprooted plant), and additional plants. At the end of each map is a special challenge zone where you compete with select plants, with lawnmowers and plant food carrying over to the next level. Sometimes, yetis even appear on the map, and if you can defeat them in the short time they’re onscreen, you’ll earn treasure as a reward.

My only complaint, besides the slow planting of sunflowers at each level’s beginning, is that I wanted to rush ahead through the stargate to the next time period. The game forces you to earn more stars doing challenges before you can continue. That’s a small complaint, though, considering how much content is available.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 works so well because at its core, it’s still the same game that we remember. PopCap remixed the central mechanics; it didn’t really redesign them. And that’s a good thing because it’s only gotten better with age.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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