Plants vs Zombies gets a sequel on iOS, and it’s about time

In the time it takes you to read this, your download of Plants vs Zombies 2 could well be complete, so I suggest you queue it up first and continue (assuming you have an iOS device). Done? All right, then. There’s no point denying the inevitable addiction that will soon follow, because Plants vs Zombies 2 is bigger, better looking, more challenging and loaded with more possibilities than its predecessor. It’s also free. Well, almost.

If time is currency, then Plants vs Zombies 2 is the most expensive free-to-play game that you can download from the Internet. Start playing it and you’ll lose track of time completely, ignoring several essential tasks such as eating, bathing or paying your taxes — the hours will fly by as you look to score all three stars in each level in an attempt to unlock the next time zone. If that was a little confusing, let me explain. The game involves travelling through time to defeat zombies through the ages — first to ancient Egypt, then to the age of Pirates and the Wild West. “Protagonist” Crazy Dave will accompany you on your journey as you protect his several dwellings and his brain from being eaten by… you guessed it, zombies.

The formula remains the same: gather sun, position plants and fend off zombies. Plants vs Zombies 2 adds more than just one twist to the basic mechanics as you replay levels to score more points or collect stars. Additional objectives may be presented to you, such as “don’t lose more than two plants” or “don’t spend more than 1500 sun”. Restrictions on the newly added support abilities and use of “plant food” may also be imposed. As you gather coins, which are earned by defeating certain zombies or beating levels, you can purchase plant food and support abilities, which are a set of “meta” abilities that let you get directly involved in the game — purchase them and you can pinch, flick or electrocute zombies with intuitive gesture-based controls.

At your disposal this time around is an all-new arsenal of plants — the hard hitting Bonk Choy, a melee plant, Bloomerang, a ranged multi-hit unit and Lightning Reed, a fast-recharging plant that shoots arc-based lightning at zombies to name a few, while old favourites such as the Cherry Bomb and Wall Nut return. The difference, of course, is plant food (gained by defeating zombies that glow green), a one-time use resource that grants special and powerful abilities. Give plant food to the Pea Shooter, for instance, and it will transform into a fully automatic heavy machine gun (that shoots peas, of course) — including a visual transformation featuring an army helmet and everything. The game can get very difficult if you choose not to use plant food or the new off-map abilities, so hoard that gold for an opportune moment.

There are shortcuts, however. Given that Plants vs Zombies 2 is a freemium title, you can use real world money to unlock levels and additional content, as well as purchase in-game currency that can be used to unlock various upgrades, purchase plant food and special abilities. But it’s really quite unnecessary if you’re prepared to spend a few hours in each of its settings. Gold drops are reasonably generous but not generous enough to render in-app purchases redundant, and the game itself is challenging, but not unreasonably difficult to force the player into spending real money on a “premium” plant or upgrade. My only complaint, if any, is that unlike its predecessor, Plants vs. Zombies 2 gets difficult very quickly — a couple of hours in, and you’re repeatedly replaying failed levels. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of this year’s best strategy releases — a hugely addictive one at that.