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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then PopCap must feel downright exalted upon spotting this new casual tower-defense affair. Trolls vs Vikings is so similar to the massively successful Plants vs. Zombies that the two would be barely discernible if not for this game’s slightly cruder art style. Almost every friendly and enemy unit and gameplay element has a direct analogue, and while Trolls vs Vikings is competently designed and tries to improve the groundwork that PopCap laid, it whiffs on some of the fundamentals.
More specifically, this is a very clear riff on Plants vs. Zombies 2 — the more recent, mobile-centric entry with free-to-play hooks. While that mostly successful freemium release suffered some degree of redundancy due to the need to go back and replay completed levels, at least those were given a new spin with alternate objectives. Trolls vs Vikings, by contrast, forces you to simply replay harder versions of its levels. Not with new strategies or alternate play styles suggested; just absurd difficulty that often proves overwhelming.
It isn’t entirely a re-skin, however, and Megapop does bring a few new ideas to the table. The most significant change comes with the production unit (a little troll with a pickaxe), which mines for build material but increases in cost with each subsequent one you place, preventing you from overdoing it and requiring more strategic planning. The slimmer in-game economy is a smart move — or rather, it would be if the game felt properly balanced for it. Especially in the case of the Hard stages mentioned above, we simply didn’t feel like we had enough access to units because production costs were so high. That in turn led us back to leaning on magic (which wastes in-game gold) simply to make it through stages. The gameplay loop seems just slightly askew in a way that unsurprisingly pushes you toward its various in-app purchases.
A few other notable changes are present. Trolls vs Vikings also does away with the fail-safes behind the back row, so once one of the Vikings crosses your final line of placed units, it’s too late. It does offer movable units, which can slide up and down the battlefield in limited capacities, but even that feels similar to the mine carts from Plants vs. Zombies 2. In most respects, anything done here has already been done better in PopCap’s ever-updated game, so it’s tough to generate much enthusiasm for this uninspiring retread.
The bottom line. Trolls vs Vikings proves incredibly derivative of Plants vs. Zombies 2, which may hit enough of a sweet spot for die-hards — but the few elements Megapop changed or added tend to throw off the balance in unexpected ways.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Well-animated characters. A few clever twists on the Plants vs. Zombies formula.
Difficulty balance pushes in-app purchases. Hard mode stages are far too punishing. Despite tweaks, it’s still extremely derivative of Plants vs. Zombies.