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Plants vs Zombies is more than the Disneyfication of Tower Defence, it injects real time strategy with enough personality to connect with family gamers of all ages.
Some family gaming greats are happy accidents, while others have resulted from canny development decisions. Plants vs Zombies is a little of both. It takes the core gaming of tower defence and gives it a friendly face.
Well, that's what it seems like before you play it. Spend a little time with it though and you soon realised there is more going on here than meets the eye. This is much more than a dumbed down version of the format, if anything the complexity has been turned up.
There's a greater variety of weapons than in any other Tower Defense game I've played. But here, weapons translate into all sorts of different plant and fungi each with their own firing rate, damage and special abilities.
This may sounds like a little too much for younger players to get their heads around, but I've been surprised just how well my kids (3, 6 and 8) have taken to it. Even the youngest clearly understands the basic strategy and has developed his own favourite combination of organic weaponry to thwart the plodding zombie hoards -- you can only take a select few with you into each level.
Plants vs Zombies works for them because it creates a strong connection with plant -- each one has its own animated personality. Over breakfast our kids talk about which they prefer and even give them their own nick names. Favourite plants seem to be based as much on which look the "coolest" as much as the most effective.
This array of weaponry combines with very simple levels and enemies to create a manageable challenge. There is the flexibility here for players to approach it their own way. Whereas I, being a keen RTS player, like to stockpile resources, my six year old spends his "sunshine" currency as quickly as he can get it. The results are very different but we can each progress.
Then there are the zombies themselves. At first I was a little nervous about how my kids (especially the youngest) would react to them. But like the plants, each zombie has his/her own personality that they can identify with. Again they seem to have favourite zombies that they like to target first -- not always based on which is the most dangerous, more on how funny they look when they die.
Plants vs Zombies works for them because it creates a strong connection with plant.
Even though at various stages of being killed the zombies will lose a limb, head or fall over, because they all stay in their cartoon character it doesn't seem to worry the kids -- no nightmares so far anyway.
The icing on the family gaming cake is something I haven't talked about very much before: portability. By this I don't (only) mean being able to play it where ever you are, but being able to play it on whichever device you have with you.
Because Plants vs Zombies is available on pretty much every platform known to man (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, Bada, iPad, PC/Mac, XBLA, PSN, Browser and most recently DS and DSi-ware) the kids can play it where ever they are.
As a family game it ticks the boxes.
One weekend we forgot to pack their DS's for a visit to grandparents, because of this cross-platform support I could simply email a link over so they could get their Zombie fix via granny's PC. This actually led to the grandparents getting slightly addicted to the game, and returning to play it after the kids had gone to bed - unprecedented.
Plants vs Zombies does all this with its simple format and emphasis on some great zombie and plant characters (and hilarious animations). As a family game it ticks the boxes, but then adds a depth and flexibility of gameplay to turn the experience into something special and enduring.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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