The current gold rush of digital CCGs started with Hearthstone, and you can tell that just from the many games in the genre that snatch mechanics and design sensibilities whole cloth from Blizzard's work. Games like Fable Fortune bring interesting changes to the formula, but it's still not straying too far from what works. If you're really looking for something different from the norm, you want a game like Plants vs. Zombies Heroes. Created by the talented people at PopCap and released in the middle of a busy October in 2016, Heroes is a simplified take on the digital card game that's filled with the same cartoon fun that the series has always been known for. After playing a few matches a day for the past six months, I felt it was only right to give the game the recognition it deserves for daring to be different in a very homogeneous space.
As you can imagine, a game called Plants vs. Zombies Heroes leans heavily on playable heroes. You get a few plants and zombies to choose from when you start the game, with more rarely coming out of booster packs. Each character represents a different combination of classes, which are similar to Magic: The Gathering's colors. This system immediately gives a fighting game-style hook to the proceedings, as each character you face only has a subset of cards available to them when building a deck. On top of that, mechanics are split heavily between the plant and zombie heroes, and you'll never face a hero of your same type in battle. The designers have taken advantage of this and considered what each character and faction would do, leading to flavorful keywords that really bring battles to life.
Even with these limitations, each character has a few different archetypes to play around with, and starting players can take advantage of the four prebuilt theme decks to get an idea of what in-game combos work best. Of course, you'll have to have the cards available to use the theme decks, but it's pretty simple to make your own version of incomplete decks. You can also let the game decide what cards to use when filling in your deck, and I've found this option to work in a pinch more often than not once your collection builds up a bit. Of course, you can bypass the wait by dropping cold hard cash into the game, and the game is clearly designed to steer you towards that option, but I found that there was still a steady stream of cards to keep me coming back as a freeloader.
Once you get into a match, you'll find Heroes to be a very offensively minded game. The playfield is a set of five lanes, with one of them being heights and one of them being aquatic. Every plant or zombie on the field automatically attacks in their lane at the end of every turn, so your strategy comes in the form of positioning and making the most out of each creature. It sounds extremely limiting when you're starting out, but between Hunt creatures that move to defend against new attackers, beans that bounce zombies back into the opposing hand, and star fruit that can attack multiple lanes at once, there are always plenty of options at your disposal. Once you get used to the setup, matches play out more like a traditional strategy board game than some of its card game peers, and that change in gameplay really spoke to me.
As far as the battles are concerned, Heroes delivers some of the most animated fights around. Plants vs. Zombies has always had an excellent cartoon aesthetic, and this game is on an equal footing with a mainline series entry. Creatures aren't trapped within card borders or presented as static images once they're summoned, with each arrival, attack and death sporting a unique movement that fits the characters perfectly. Plenty of these characters feel ripped straight from other games in the franchise, although there are plenty of original characters to go around as well. If you know PvZ, you'll know that the game leaves no pun unused, so expect gems like Sonic Bloom and Clique Peas to either brighten or sour your day depending on your disposition.
Speaking of those cards, they're both "Event" promos, which are cards that are added and distributed over the course of a week outside of the normal booster packs. They're rather difficult to get unless you dedicate a lot of time (or money) to the game, which can throw off the balance of play somewhat between casuals and more dedicated players. Still, packs are pretty plentiful, and it's rare that I go a few rounds without earning enough to get new cards. Useless duplicates can be recycled into a currency to acquire rarer cards (including older events) which can help with those balance issues. The developers wisely introduced "conjure" to certain cards in the latest expansion, which allows you to pull a random card from the entire game into your hand. This lets you take advantage of cards that would be otherwise unavailable and contributes to the chaotic fun of the whole affair.
In fact, "conjure" is only one way that Plants vs. Zombies Heroes deftly takes advantage of its status as a digital card game. Much like how you see Pinball FX2 adding in mini games and inventory systems that would be impossible to pull off in real life pinball, Heroes has a whole host of card effects that aren't possible on a tabletop. Everything from the environment cards that visibly affect a single lane to the game swinging legendaries that can wipe a board in one flashy move contribute to the video portion of this video game. In addition to that, effects you'd expect in a digital game like boosting the stats of cards in your hand and producing tokens out of thin air are welcome features if you're coming from a purely tabletop experience.
Out of all the CCGs on the market today, I feel that Plants vs. Zombies Heroes has something unique to offer. Its gameplay pulls back on some of the needless complexity of other card games while retaining strategic elements that make every match a nail biter. The game also retains the same cartoon aesthetic that made the original games shine, with a constant flow of new characters to chuckle about. For something that was designed to be played in short sessions, I've found myself plugging away at Heroes for hours at a time, never getting bored of its range of heroes and numerous play styles. No matter your experience level, anyone looking for a good card game on their phone will be be drawn into the delightful world of Plants vs. Zombies.
Our Plants vs Zombies Heroes review was conducted on Android with an app downloaded by the reviewer. The game is also available on iPhone. Upwards of $50 in microtransactions were spent during the review process after extensive testing of the F2P experience.
Plants vs Zombies Heroes shines in a crowded genre by bringing unique gameplay ideas to the digital tabletop and retaining the cartoon joy that made the franchise famous.
- Lane Based Gameplay
- Unique Mechanics
- Colorful Presentation
- Matchmaking Imbalances