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Memory Leaks: Plants Versus Zombies

🧠 There's a zombie on your lawn...

Plants vs Zombies is a 2009 casual tower-defense game from PopCap Games in which you, a humble homeowner, must use plant-based artillery to defend your lawn from a hoard of zombies trudging their way out of the cemetery across the street. It was a breakout hit for PopCap, far surpassing their other casual titles Bejeweled and Peggle. PopCap was subsequently bought up by EA and--and this should surprise literally no one--PvZ was spun into a huge multi-media franchise that never generated another hit.

How I Remember It...

I don't remember precisely how I stumbled upon this one. I think I was just blindly looking for real-time-strategy games, of which tower-defense is a very specific subset (I feel like I discovered Bloons around the same time). I know I tried out the demo first. You could play for thirty minutes for free as a trial, and it only took about five for me to decide I wanted to buy it. It has simple yet addictive gameplay and a very dumb sense of humor. Exactly my cup of tea. This had to have been shortly after it released because I remember the Thriller Dancing Zombie, and he got replaced with the Disco Dancing Zombie about a year after Michael Jackson's death.

This is one that I inevitably play through again whenever I get a new computer. I'll be setting up Steam and downloading games and I'll see it on the list and think "Oh, yeah, I should play that again" and I do. And it's fun. I'll play all the way through the story twice and have a ball. (The first time you play through the game is basically a tutorial where you slowly unlock everything. The second playthrough is where you get to really cut loose.) Unsurprisingly, this is one of only two games where I've unlocked every single Steam achievement. Come to think of it, just writing this makes me want to fire it up again.

Unlike a lot of casual games, it has a start and a definite end. It doesn't ratchet up the difficulty until it becomes unwinnable. There's no Freemium model, no loot crates, no weekly challenges, no special tiers of in-game currency that you have to pay real money for in order to unlock new plants. It's just a game that you buy once and can play and beat. There's a ton of side content and mini-games that get pretty inventive some times.

There are a couple of thing that makes this one stand out to me. A lot of tower-defense games get bogged down by not having anything to offer but sheer quantity. There's not a whole lot of strategy beyond maximizing coverage until you run out of space. But PvZ manages things a little differently. For one, there's five or six lanes you're managing rather than a single long path, and they're populated at random. This gives the games a natural rhythm. You have to react to where the zombies appear in the early phase, balancing threat management with building up a resource engine, but making sure your engine is well-defended enough that it will survive when things start getting chaotic. And since there's no break between waves (there's a lull, but not a delineated maintenance phase), you have to react in real time. Which makes it feel a little bit more like an RTS than just simple tower-defense.

Now, none of this is groundbreaking or revelatory. But it is fun and relatively unique and it's set to a pretty excellent soundtrack. I routinely get the boss fight music stuck in my head. All in all, it's kind of shocking that they haven't been able to come up with a decent (read: "non-Freemium") follow-up. I mean... it's a pretty formulaic game. You could literally take the exact same format with new maps and a few new plants and, hell, I'd buy it.

Plants vs. Zombies is available on PC and mobile and a host of handhelds and also consoles for some reason? I can't imagine playing this without a mouse or a touchscreen though.

In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.