Aaarrrgh! PopCap needs to stop making games. No, really they do. It’s not that I have a particular problem with any one of their games in isolation, but seen together, they must be responsible for a staggering amount of wasted time. That’s all any PopCapgame is at the end of the day: an excellent, diverting, hideously addictive waste of buggering time. Honestly, if you turn any one of their games on, you lose four hours straight off the bat. There’s no way you’re going to even consider the possibility of moving away from or, god forbid, turning off your machine until you either: a) start feeling the warmth of urine in your crotch or b) realise that you finished the last tube of nearby Pringles seventeen hours ago, and your tummy sounds like a maladjusted grizzly bear.
What makes this collection quadruply dangerous, is the fact that you get four games, and each one looks as innocuous as the next – like a little row of kittens. The trouble is that when you pick up these kittens, they turn into little cutesy sticks of sherbet-flavoured heroine, and before you know it you’re entrenched on your sofa at four in the morning, twitching and making little battlements out of Pringles tubes during the load screens. Even once you find out that this is what it does to you, you still come back for more. I’m an addict my happy place is Plants vs. Zombies.
Let’s start with that bomb of addiction. Some would describe Plants vs. Zombies as a kind of ‘My First… tower defence game’. It’s not though. You don’t have this much fun with anything in the ‘My First…’ range, trust me. No, this is more like being used to the functionality, safety and practicality of a Ford Focus, then being let out for a works do at the local go-karting track. There’s no inherent value to it, it’s just fun. You’re doing it to have fun. Fun? Remember that? Before the days of cutscenes and videogame “writing”, we used to play games for fun. If it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t a good game. Nowadays we haveto consider things like narrative and story, and pretend like we care.
As a tower defence game it fails on so many counts, but that’s not the point. I’ve tried to play it like a real tower defence game but it’s entirely unnecessary, not to mention less fun. Every level you’re given a new type of flower with which to deal with the lanes of oncoming zombies, and more often than not the next level forces you to use that particular flower. You know that feeling in any kind of strategy game, where you’ve built up enough power to completely dominate the enemy? You know that, right? Just before you send them in to obliterate the blue team, or the orcs, or the electro steam-punk facists, or whatever, you amass them and imagine that you’re such an amazing general, and that actually you perhaps should have been in the higher echelons of the army? (You wouldn’t, by the way.) Plants vs. Zombies gives you that feeling. All of the time. Of course there are some juxtaposition issues, but the simple feeling of constantly winning in any kind of tactical challenge is often too much to tear yourself away from. It’s like you’ve been given a note from your teacher at school that allows you to beat up the little turd at the back of the class as much as you like. And steal his lunch money. In this metaphor, the little brat’s lunch money is the amount of extras you get. Multiplayer, co-op and about a squillion minigames, you name it.
It’s at this point in a review that I’d normally rant on about how “such-and-such would have improved this, that or the other”, or “A little more of this would have gone a long way”. I’m not going to with Plants vs. Zombies, because it already feels like the dev team has snuck into my home overnight and squeezed my brain for any kind of game mode or extra possible. I mean every single drop of longevity has been mashed out of this. For what it is, it’s nigh on the perfect game.
So, what about the others? Well, while Plants vs. Zombies is undoubtedly my favourite in the collection, the others are no less worthy of note, and will probably hit a good many personal sweet spots, like Plants vs Zombies did with me. Zuma is the only game in the collection that really challenges you. Within three or four levels, you’re required to actually think about what you’re doing, and react according to ever changing situations. It’s basically a block-matching puzzler, but the blocks are delivered outside of the standard grid format. Great chains of them inexorably snake toward their goal, and it’s your job to stop them. If you’re used to the more relaxed tempo of other PopCap games, this one may take you a little by surprise.
Heavy Weapon harks back to the days of early nineties arcades. You know, before fruit machines and profit margins ruined it for everyone. You have up to four players with four cutesy little tanks, and you blow the crap out of stuff. It’s easy, fun and exciting for the senses and, like a girlfriend with such qualities, is a real keeper. It is quite ridiculous at times, but it’s a great little game, and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been copied numerous times.
Oh, and then there’s Feeding Frenzy 2. Erm, well… it’s Feeding Frenzy as far as I can tell. You eat fish, you get bigger, and you eat more fish, until you eat the biggest fish and become king of all fish, glorious in your splendiferous regency. This game has a personal attachment for me, as I’m trying the same thing with toast at the minute.
As a collection, it absolutely cannot be faulted, with the possible exception of the fact that Feeding Frenzy 2 is no different to the original. You can probably pick it up for around 15 quid, and that’s pretty good going for four games that have the potential to waste days, weeks or even month’s of your time. So, in a final plea, PopCap, please stop making these games. You’ve proved that you’re clever enough to produce genuinely top-class casual games, and we probably don’t need any more. You’ve outwitted the entire videogames industry and made an absolute heap of money coming from nowhere. Stop. Move on to something else – cat training devices, space exploration, whatever. I don’t care, just stop. Then maybe, just maybe, we can all get back to our boring lives devoid of fun.
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