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PopCap's original Plants vs. Zombies – a streamlined twist on tower defense that put the fate of a suburban home in the hands of undead-fighting foliage – debuted before the freemium craze, and it was a huge hit on numerous platforms, even becoming one of the best-selling iOS apps of all time. As a free-to-play affair, Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time expectedly strikes a different tone than its premium predecessor – and it's not the time-travel theme that most strongly defines the direction of this initially iOS-exclusive sequel.
By and large, the sequel hews closely to the winning formula of the original, tasking you with defending grid-based locales from the oncoming zombie waves by smartly placing various offensive plants, like peashooters – literally, they shoot green peas – plus explosive cherries and potato mines. Both your arsenal and the enemy ranks have increased in variety this time around, with new types of plants and zombies alike, though all maintain the winning cartoon edge that made the offbeat concept so endearing last time.
Plants vs. Zombies 2's locales span three themed environment types – Ancient Egypt, Pirate Seas, and the Wild West – and instead of a straightforward campaign crawl, the sequel presents the numerous available stages on a large world map for each time period. Surrounding the core stages are numerous optional bonus levels and certain plant types and upgrades to unlock, plus many stages can be played multiple times thanks to distinct extra objectives.
It's impressive to see a free-to-play game of this quality. The hand-drawn artwork is crisper and more detailed, the gameplay remains accessible but strategic, and there's a huge amount to play here. And the freemium tweaks luckily don't seriously cheapen the experience. There are power-ups you can use in a bind, which can be purchased more readily with real cash, plus you can pay to open up locked gateways instead of replaying stages to earn enough stars and keys. But you can play through the game for free with enough persistence.
However, the series' trademark magic is spread a bit thinner here. Only the Wild West stages are different enough in layout to shake up your tried-and-true strategies, and series veterans will find much of the game rather easy and overly familiar. The shift in approach puts a premium on playing stages over and over again, but without significant variance in design, this sequel turns stagnant much sooner than expected. Fingers crossed that the promised additional content will hold a bit more punch and challenge for established fans.
The bottom line. More isn't necessarily better, though Plants vs. Zombies 2 still shines as a slick and fun free offering.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 5.1 or later
Large and polished free-to-play offering. New plants to wield and zombies to use them against. Still a great, accessible twist on tower defense.
Doesn't advance the series formula very much. Repetitive nature starts to wear thin without significant challenge in tow.