The lights are on
When Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time launched worldwide last August on iOS (and a couple months later on Android), there was a lot to love. Fans experienced inventive new worlds, powerful new plants, and pesky new zombies. Plus, the base game was all free. However, certain elements dragged the experience down. The overworld was mapped out like Super Mario World, with several branching paths. This was fine. The problem involved the progression system. To move on to a new world you had to replay old levels to earn the large amount of stars necessary to pass through a time gate. And if you wanted to unlock certain upgrades and bonus levels, you had to grind and hope to get rare key drops. Thankfully, developer Popcap has been hard at work all this time, constantly improving the experience. Now that a long-promised new world has finally released, these are the reasons you should give the game another shot if you were turned off by the launch edition.
The New Far Future World (March 27, 2014)
PvZ 2 introduced worlds based on ancient Egypt, pirate times, and the Wild West. These were great at launch, but we've been staring at a black silhouette marked "coming soon" in the fourth world slot for months. Now we finally have a new bounty of content set in a futuristic land. Naturally, the zombies are dressed in space suits and now have several high-tech machines at their disposal. The Shield Zombie operates a force field-generating vehicle that protects itself as well as those in other rows. Mecha-Football Zombie rides in a big helmet and pushes back your carefully arranged plants instead of eating them. The obnoxious Disco-tron 3000 summons a swarm of Disco Jetpack Zombies.
To combat these new threats, you get a new crop of plants. The Laser Bean's attack hits all the enemies in a single row at once, though there's a slight pause between shots. Citron, a big orange, charges up slowly and unleashes a large plasma blast that heavily damages a single target. E.M.Peach is a one-shot attack that temporarily disables the zombies' powerful machines. Infi-nut is a blue holographic version of the traditional Wall-nut. While it's weaker overall, it can regenerate over time if you keep the zombies away.
The signature element of Far Future is the new Power Tiles. These are marked with symbols like squares and triangles. Say you place three plants on three matching tiles. If you give one of them some plant food to unleash a super move, the other two will also perform supers without any additional plant food cost. If you plan well, this can wipe out hordes of zombies in a split second.
New Sun Bombs appear on a few levels here and there. These purple suns drop randomly from the sky. If you tap them before they hit the ground, they'll explode and damage enemies and friends alike. If you wait until they hit the ground, the pickups turn to normal yellow sun that you can use to buy more plants. It offers a tricky mix of new offense, potential self sabotage, and patience waiting for the essential sun currency.
Restructured Progression (December 2013)
An older update boldly blew up all of the annoying parts described in the beginning of this story and replaced them with a simple, linear overworld progression system. You beat one level and move on to the next, collecting upgrades and new plants along the way. There are no more random key drops to grind for, and skipping ahead to a new world is easier than ever. You simply beat the eighth level in any world (themed around Gargantuar zombies) and you'll get a special key that allows you to skip ahead to the next time period.
Return of the Zen Garden (March 27, 2014)
Although it doesn't work the same way as the Zen Garden in the first PvZ, the new one is useful nonetheless. You earn potted mystery plants in normal gameplay and plant them in the garden. A random plant type appears, and after some watering and waiting (ranging from 30 minutes to several hours) you earn some coins and unlock a boosted version of said plant for the next time you use it in a level. Boosted plants immediately perform their super move upon planting so they can really save your bacon in a tight spot. The boost bonus lasts for the entire level so with each new Cabbage-pult you plant, for example, it'll launch a single barrage of cabbage attacks on the whole screen. After you use a boosted plant, it disappears from your inventory so the collection element of the PvZ 1 Zen Garden isn't there. This also introduces a new gem currency, which can be used to expand your garden and speed up plant progress. Of course, you can buy these gems with real money to speed garden actions along, but it's totally functional without spending a dime.
Bosses (February 2014)
As mentioned before, worlds used to end anticlimactically by beating the last stage and hitting a wall. Instead of having to go back through all the levels you just beat, now you're rewarded with a boss battle at the end of each world. The evil Dr. Zomboss returns from the first PvZ in several unique forms suited to the theme of the time period. Above, you can see the Zombot Sphinx-inator from the Ancient Egypt stage, which jumps from lane to lane, releasing hordes of zombies and shooting rockets. We won't spoil any other boss types, but they're all challenging in a different way and a great way to close out each time period.
Turbo Mode (December 2013)
There's one problem that stretches all the way back to the very first PvZ game. Most standard stages start out extremely slow. You plant that first Sunflower. Wait around for the next. A zombie wanders out. You blow it up with a Potato Mine. Sure, things pick up before long, but it's always a little dry in the beginning. That's finally been changed in an update that went in late last year. See that fast forward button in the top right? You tap that, and everything moves much faster. I mostly use this to get to the action faster, though hardcore players can keep it turned on at all times if they've got the reflexes to keep up with the zombie onslaught.
All of these factors add up to a great experience in the current iteration of PvZ 2, and I'm Popcap's desire to keep the content rolling. There's already a new world silhouette that points to a medieval era. Who knows what other tweaks we'll see before then?
Email the author Bryan Vore, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.