Gotta get back in time

When you consider the phenomenon that the first Plants vs. Zombies became—being ported countless times to every system available and inspiring every piece of merchandise imaginable—it’s no wonder that the folks at PopCap would, at some point, get around to making a sequel. Instead of resting on their laurels and riding the massive wave of success generated by the first game to an easy payday, however, Plants vs. Zombies 2 erects a wondrous monument on the foundation of its predecessor that has the potential to consume every free second you have—if you let it.

Building a bit on the story of the first game, PvZ 2 sees your neighbor, good ol’ Crazy Dave, construct a talking time machine out of his car. After eating the most delicious taco ever assembled, Dave gets the idea of using his time machine to travel several minutes back in time to consume this hallowed taco once more. Being in the vicinity of the car, you’re pulled back with Dave, but instead of several minutes, you’re sent back several thousand years. Now, you must battle zombie hordes with the help of Dave and his sentient automobile, traveling through time as you try to get back home.

The biggest change that most players will notice is that, unlike its predecessor, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is free-to-play (not to mention starting out as an exclusive on iOS devices). Fans needn’t worry about free-to-play becoming pay-to-win, or about any story content being gated, though. The entire game can be played without you having to pay a dime, and only one of the new plant types is locked by a purchase. Plus, the extra good news is that PopCap has promised continual content updates to the game through this system.

Despite the switch to a free-to-play model, both the core tower-defense gameplay and cheesy humor that made Plants vs. Zombies so great return here in droves. The obvious additions are dozens of new plants, like the fire-breathing Snapdragon or kung-fu-proficient Bop Choy, and new zombies, like the sun-stealing Ra Zombie. Along with these new characters comes a bevy of powers that you can utilize at any time.

Some of these powers come from supercharged plant food that you acquire by defeating special green-tinted zombies. By utilizing it at the right time, you can turn the tide of any battle, and each plant has its own appropriate special attacks. Old standbys like Pea Pods will shoot a continuous stream of pellets, perfect for wearing down shielded zombies, while Bop Choy will deliver furious roundhouse kicks and swinging haymakers that allow it to attack not only directly in front of it, but in adjacent lanes as well.

Utilizing the touchscreen feature of the iOS devices, PvZ 2 can also give the player special powers that you can purchase either with in-game currency earned by playing well, or by dropping some real-world cash via the in-game store. These powers can serve as a Hail Mary for some more troublesome maps. For a few seconds, one power grants you the ability to electrocute any zombie onscreen and turn them to ash. Another allows you to pinch zombie heads off their bodies, instantly killing them. And the final power allows you to flick zombies off the screen and into an unknown abyss from whence they will never return. When you combine the new plant food feature with these powers, you have countless new strategies that can potentially open up.

Outside of the action on each main level, there are plenty of side activities as well, providing some much-appreciated gameplay variety in the form of minigames and challenge maps. Whether it’s using only a certain number of total plants in the match or starting with plants already on the field that you can’t let die, the challenge maps add a ton of replayability.

There is, however, a fine line between replayability and grinding. The one negative in PvZ 2 is that in order to advance from ancient Egypt to the pirate world and finally to the Wild West, you need to collect a certain number of stars—and these stars usually will require you to do the same story levels over and over again, collecting them one at a time. Although it’s enjoyable at first, after a while, it feels needless to constantly backtrack and retread ground, like some infuriating JRPG.

Putting that aside, though, there’s no way I can’t recommend Plants vs Zombies 2: It’s About Time if you have an iOS device. It doesn’t cost you a single cent to play, it maintains the same addictive strategy elements of the first game, and it adds a ton of new gameplay variety. If the first Plants vs. Zombies was a sensation, Plants vs. Zombies 2 may turn the franchise into a way of life.

Developer: PopCap Games • Publisher: Electronic Arts • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 08.15.2013

PopCap maintains the addictive tower-defense gameplay and cheesy humor that made the first Plants vs. Zombies such a phenomenon, while adding a plethora of new features that ensure this game will consume every free second you have—if you let it.

The Good A near-unbelievable amount of enjoyable additions.
The Bad Can become a bit of a grind when forced to replay a lot of levels before advancing to the next world.
The Ugly Fire-breathing flowers and highly combustible zombie flesh.
Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time is currently an iOS exclusive.