Firstly though a disclaimer; today I'm reviewing the GOTY edition available to download on Steam - so not all features I mention may be available on other platforms. Also, the free mobile phone versions are notorious for microtransactions and making the in-game currency as valuable as the Canadian dollar lately.
The basic storyline of Plants VS Zombies is as simple as they come - a hoard of brain-hungry zombies have chosen you as their target. In order to protect your brains, your neighbour Crazy Dave has provided you with a bunch of seed packets from the Bloom N Doom seed company - allowing you to grow your own army of both offensive and defensive plants in order to stop the zombies from crossing your lawn and helping themselves to a tasty morsel of grey matter.
Crazy Dave then continues to appear throughout the story campaign and the post-game content, mainly hosting bizarre mini-games, rambling weird stories and most usefully, selling you new seed packets, upgrades and other cool items literally out of the boot of his car - or as he calls it, Crazy Dave’s Twiddlidinkies. Other than the zombies themselves, he is the only character who shows up in-game, as you yourself are the unseen player character.
The story mode of Plants VS Zombies consists of 50 levels of increasing difficulty, first starting in your front lawn, then moving onto your back lawn (which also has a swimming pool) and eventually onto your roof, which is angled and all plants must be planted within terracotta plant pots. There are also levels that are set at nighttime and allow you the use of nocturnal mushroom and fungi plants and levels that are obscured by fog, rain, thunderstorms etc. Upon successful completion of each level, you will unlock a new seed packet - working towards a complete collection of 50.
In addition to the standard tower-defense style levels, there is also a huge collection of different mini-games, each with their own unique strategies. Some of them, like Beghouled and Beghouled Twist also borrow mechanics from other Pop Cap titles and mix it with the Plants VS Zombies style. There are mini-games that are based around luck (i.e. the Slot Machine) and conserving your sun, i.e. the Last Stand mini game in which you are given a set amount of sun to use to build up your defenses.
There are also two expanded mini-games, Vasebreaker and I Zombie. Vasebreaker is a combination strategy/puzzle game in which all of your plants and the invading zombies are housed within breakable pottery jars - and you must plan your moves carefully to ensure your brains remain uneaten. I Zombie turns the game on its head and allows you to use sun to purchase zombie invaders who will eat through cardboard cut-outs of plants in order to reach the tasty pre-removed brains on the other side of the field. Using a wide variety of different zombies with different skills, each setup will have its own unique solution or set of solutions - and it’s very satisfying to play for the bad guys for a change.
Somewhat out of place is the Zen Garden mode, which allows you to take control of your own greenhouse, watering, fertilising and caring for plants - starting out as shoots that are bought or dropped randomly during gameplay and raised until maturity - upon which you can sell them or keep them as part of your growing collection. Raising these plants is completely optional, but it does allow you to quickly and easily collect large amounts of coins to purchase the more pricey upgrades - and is ideal for gamers who just aren’t satisfied unless they’re collecting something.
Finally there is Survival mode - which is exactly as it sounds - using your already collected seed packets, items and upgrades, you are challenged to see how many waves you can survive and how long you can hold out against the non-stop horde until your brains are eventually eaten. This mode is brilliantly addictive and is great fun to try out new strategies or steal others you find on the Plants VS Zombies wiki and make your own personal adjustments to.
I honestly don’t know how, but I’ve somehow managed to sink over 200 hours into this game - it’s just bizarrely addictive. There’s near-endless different lawn defense strategies, tons of fun secrets and unlocks and no two players will ever defend their lawn the same way.