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Plants vs Zombies 2: First look

Right now, my iPad is my enemy. On it is Plants vs Zombies 2 (free, or more realistically, "free, but you are an IAP target waiting to be plucked repeatedly"), just released last night and since about 11PM yesterday, well, let's just say sleep and work went by the wayside.

It's a funny kind of upgrade. There are bits about it I'm disappointed with, but overall, it has charmed me.

You don't purchase PvZ 2. It's a free download. Instead, the emphasis has transferred to in-app purchases, with hardcore upsells throughout the app. If Candy Crush is the great Satan of IAP abuse, PvZ 2 is certainly an acolyte. I'd much rather pay US$10 or $20 for a full app than constantly be treated as a mark. But this is the way the App Store works these days.

Plants vs Zombies 2 First look

Visuals are the first big change you notice in PvZ 2. The artwork has lost the glossy beauty from the original PvZ. It feels more like an embedded web game (is "Facebooky" a word?) than the original. The designs are flatter, less three-dimensional, and while certainly playable, it looks more basic overall.

Plants vs Zombies 2 First look

The gameplay, however, remains delightful. I love the storytelling (yes, even Crazy Dave), the challenges, the new tools and the overall epic. In this version of PvZ, you work your way through a quest through time to bring Crazy Dave back to the present, so he can eat more spicy tacos.

No one ever said PvZ was Shakespeare.

The game starts off with a hint of dinosaur bones beneath the turf, a suggestion of the overall theme, then quickly throws you back to ancient Egypt where you battle historic-style Zombies. If you're familiar with the original PvZ, all your skills and strategies still apply, but there are plenty of engaging and fun new twists. I'm looking forward to other historic venues as the game continues.

Features like plant food (that zap your lawn defenders into overdrive) and power-ups (pinching the heads off zombies -- more fun than it sounds, flicking and zapping your zombies) offer intriguing interaction updates. New plants, new obstacles and a bunch of new challenges (archaeologist zombies with torches, dustdevil storm zombies) provide plenty of play fun.

In the end, PvZ 2 transcends "more of the same." It's a fun and noteworthy update, one that I'd have been happy to pay a premium for if PopCap weren't so insistent on keeping its hand outstretched for IAPs. It would be a far better game if they converted it to simple pay-then-play, but I suspect their bottom line has taught them how today's App Store market can optimize revenue.

I really liked it as I played it, but I do hope I can do so without ever using any IAPs. Should PopCap reconsider and offer a single-payment option that reconsiders this approach, I'll be in line with my credit card.

Plants vs Zombies 2 First look

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