EA's returning once more to the popular Plants vs. Zombies universe in Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, but this time the formula is getting some new additions, and it's resulted in the franchise's most entertaining console iteration yet. The previous Garden Warfare games were always fun, mind you, but while the aesthetics and characters you know from the mobile game were all accounted for, there just wasn't much substance to the recipe, and it always felt a bit hollow in the middle. Battle for Neighborville seems to have finally found the right ingredients to make the license sing, and whether you're commanding a Zombie Space Cadet or a Snapdragon, you're going to have a ball of a time.
Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville features the return of the previous outings' multiplayer modes, though they have refined the offerings from previous games and added more than welcome split-screen couch co-op play to each of those modes. The modes themselves all offer frantic but insanely fun moment-to-moment gameplay, though the modes with bigger player pools are the most fun, giving you ample enemies to take aim at, which subsequently causes you to switch back and forth between your character's unique slate of abilities constantly.
The characters themselves are the true highlight, of course, and while I'm partial to the Plants, the Zombies offer up some creative and addicting choices as well. Each group gets three new characters to choose from, and all of them bring something special to the party, though we'd be remiss if we didn't give kudos to whoever designed the Oak & Acorn. The new Plant quickly became my favorite, as your little Acorn can turn into a huge Oak tree complete with a cannon, an ability to throw logs like rolling blades, and the option to throw a bomb that you can detonate at a distance. The Snapdragon was a beast, and while Night Cap isn't the most durable, the Plant is definitely lethal.
Like the Oak and Acorn, the Space Cadet allows for multiple people to team up, but the star of the Zombies show is easily the '80s Action Hero, who, beyond the hilarious design, sports an audio wave bow, a rocket launcher, and an over-the-top move that spawns some Dynamite. We do love Captain Deadbeard, but it was hard not to love '80s Action Hero as well.
Once you've picked your character, you'll find yourself in the game's main hub, Giddy Park. Giddy Park is where you go for a multitude of things, whether that be upgrading your characters, customizing their looks, buying new gear, target practice, or heading into the three free-roam regions of Neightborville. You can also jump over into the combat section of the park and get into a light multiplayer skirmish, which is a great way to test out a new character's abilities and get acclimated. I've typically avoided social hubs in the past, as they never made me feel part of a community in any real way, but there is a delightful charm and magic to this world that had me heading to the hub in between missions even when I really didn't need to, though there was always something to do if I looked for it.
The game really shines, though, when you take your chosen character and head to Neighborville's free-roam areas, which come in Town Center, Mount Steep, and Weirding Woods varieties. These areas offer up full quests to progress your fight against your chosen opponent, giving you interesting NPCs to meet and variations on the gameplay that will keep you hooked into this world. You'll find plenty of Plants or Zombies to take down in these areas, but full-scale faction battles can also start when a light skirmish turns into something bigger, and that will net you plenty of coins and tacos to customize your character. I spent quite a bit of time just exploring the world, finding Golden Gnomes, and getting into skirmishes, and that was all simply taking place between main missions, which were often challenging but in a great way (except for one particular boss battle, which was more annoying than anything, but I digress).
The vast differences in how the Plants and Zombies play kept the minute-to-minute gameplay fresh and fun, and while the Zombies and Plant quests and missions do feel a little too similar, they introduce enough creativity to keep you entertained. The game is packed with quite a bit of content right off the bat, and as long as EA can keep the community engaged with new events, maps, and characters, this should have some significant legs. The gameplay could use a few touches of refinement, like in how the running still feels floaty and, at times, interacting with objects is a little touchy. Also, the game doesn't do that great of a job with on-boarding, and while the answers to most questions are present in Giddy Park, some might be put off that there's no linear quest driving you towards those answers.
Plants vs. Zombies has always had potential on consoles, but it seems Battle for Neighborville has finally found the winning formula. Battle for Neighborville builds on its predecessors' fun mechanics and adds a massive new world to explore that takes advantage of its strengths, all the while never forgetting the lighthearted approach that made us fall in love with the franchise in the first place. Battle for Neighborville is a rollicking good time, and we can't wait to spend more time in this vibrant and whimsical world.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Published By: EA Games
Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is available now.