You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Plants vs Zombies franchise.  It’s been around for quite a while and is fairly popular, yet I’ve never played a game in the series.  Not until the recent release of Plants vs Zombies: Heroes, a mobile title combining parts of Hearthstone and Clash Royale with the series’s lane-based gameplay.  After playing for a few days, I can definitively say that it’s fun and easy to play.  If you like competitive games that you can play in five to ten minutes, PvZ: Heroes is going to be worth your time.

Look at the little pea pod and his cape. He's adorable!
Look at the little pea pod and his cape. He’s adorable!

  • TL;DR: A new spin on the popular series, Plants vs Zombies: Heroes is an entertaining game of deckbuilding and outsmarting opponents
  • Platforms: Android (reviewed), iOS
  • Time Played: 4:00
  • What I Played: Three plant campaigns, one zombie campaign, 15-20 multiplayer matches

There is a backstory to Plants vs Zombies: Heroes about a crazy doctor trying to take over the world with his zombies but, frankly, I’m going to skip over that and dive right into gameplay.  PvZ: Heroes is a card battling game where you play as a hero on either the plant or zombie side of the never-ending war on a board with five lanes: three on the ground, one elevated in the air, and one in the water.  You start with a hand of four cards out of your 40 card deck along with one energy (sun for the plants, brains for the zombies).  Energy works just like mana does in Hearthstone — you will generate your max mana per turn, carrying over none of your remaining energy from the previous turn and increasing your maximum by one per turn.  Heroes have 20 life points and the first to reduce the others to zero wins.

One of the more interesting bits of PvZ: Heroes is turn order.  Zombies always get to place their units first.  Then, plants get to play both their units and tricks (spells).  Once the plants are done, the zombies can play their tricks before finally triggering each lane in left to right order.  Zombies always attack first in each lane, but plants, including dead ones, always attack back before being removed from the board.  Units block all damage in their lane unless otherwise noted, meaning a 1/1 throwaway unit can soak up all the damage from a huge 6/6 enemy.  In my ~40 games played, I’d say the average length is seven to 10 turns over about 10 to 12 minutes.

Decks are built with 40 total cards including up to four duplicates of a single card.  The majority of cards are units with an attack value and a health value.  Most lanes can only house one unit per side, but cards with the “team up” ability can be played in a lane with another unit, letting you either set up a unit while letting another tank for it.  There are quite a few effects in PvZ: Heroes and most of them are self-explanatory: “strikethrough” damage will continue through a defending unit and hit the hero behind it, a unit with “deadly” acts like Hearthstone’s Emperor Cobra and will kill any unit it damages, “frenzy” lets a unit attack a second time if it kills another unit, etc.  Since there are so many cards and effects all thrown at you all at once, PvZ: Heroes smartly lets you long press a unit to bring up it’s details whether its in your hand or on the board.

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Five lanes, two heroes, 40 card decks, 20 health.  Also, shoutout to my dude The Smash.

That just about covers the plants and zombies portion of the game’s title, but what about heroes?  The hero you pick gives you two main things.  First, each hero allows the use of two types of cards in their decks.  For example, my current favorite zombie hero is The Smash (pictured above) who can use cards in the Hearty and Beastly classes while my top plant, Solar Flare, pulls from the Kabloom and Solar classes.  Cards within the same class tend to have synergies with each other, so making efficient combinations between your two classes is key.  Each hero you unlock comes with it’s basic 40-card deck but you’ll quickly earn more cards either through card packs or crafting.  Heroes also come with their own super powers that charge up each time the hero is hit.  Hits randomly charge up your heroes super power meter one to three units.  When fully charged, the hero gets their super power as a card and fully blocks the hit that charged the meter.  This can happen up to three times a game.  Super powers are unique to each hero and fit into their overall theme, like Solar Flare’s super power to deal two damage and increase maximum energy by one.

“I don’t want a deck of basic cards,” you say.  “I want a deck to crush my enemies!”  As is true with almost any card-based game, you can earn new cards through packs or crafting.  Basic packs can be purchased with coins, earned at a rate of 15 per win and five per loss, for 100 coins per pack.  You can also buy packs with gems, the microtransaction currency of PvZ: Heroes.  Gems are earned through quests or by spending cold, hard cash.  I’ve played for about four hours and it seems like the flow of gems is pretty high, so high that I don’t think buying them will be a path any but the highest of high-end players go down.  The game tries to entice you with special deals on groups of card packs with guaranteed rare cards and new heroes, though, so only time will tell.  Thankfully, this is as far as PvZ: Heroes goes with the typical mobile game annoyances.  There are no ads or timed energy bars limiting your play.

It wouldn't be a mobile game without in-app purchases! PvZ: Heroes is pretty good about them, though.
The gems required to buy these packs are fairly easy to come by, but that gems tab is there just in case.

PvZ: Heroes comes with a robust single player campaign along with a typical multiplayer mode split between casual and ranked play.  You can run through single player missions as plants or zombies, each mission broken up into five games against the same enemy hero.  The last of the five is a boss battle where the enemy will start with the upper hand like units already on the board or extra health.  Each mission is set in it’s own little comic book, furthering the comic book hero aesthetic that the game puts on.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of the single player content and will definitely be going back for more.

Multiplayer is where it’s at, though, which is why I’ve only played through four of the single player stories.  Take your best deck on either side into casual or ranked play, but I recommend playing as the zombies.  Matchmaking times are practically nonexistent for zombies but can take minutes for plants.  In fact, the problem is so bad that an in-game pop up tells you to join the zombie side for quicker matchmaking times.  Wins will give you stars, which will increase your overall rank and move you up into different leagues for higher rewards and better opposition.  Losing a game will bring down your star count but not drop you below the bottom rank for your given league.  In my ~15-20 multiplayer matches, I think I’ve seen just about everything.  I’ve been absolutely rolled and done my fair share of dominating.  I’ve been in a 15-turn battle of wits.  I’ve disconnected when I was about to win and had my opponent disconnect when I was surely going to lose.  I was even a “he drew the exact card he needed to win before I could” situation away from beating a rank 24 player as a rank five.  I can’t speak much to the balance of the game and the different heroes, but so far I haven’t seen any strategy or hero that seems broken or unbeatable.

As with other PvZ games, PvZ: Heroes has a cute 2D art style with fun, vibrant effects.  Plants are typically cheery and happy just to be out in the sun, while zombies have their own level of cuteness with their giant eyes and slack jaws.  There’s a real attention to detail with each unit having their own unique attack animation and hero-specific splash screens before a super power is unleashed.  PvZ: Heroes is best experienced with headphones, as the game will tell you whenever you load it up, and I have to agree.  The combat and spell effects all have their own cues as do hero shields and super powers.

The eternal struggle of flora vs flesh eaters, now in your pocket.
The eternal struggle of flora vs flesh eaters, now in your pocket.

Plants vs Zombies: Heroes is the latest card battling spin on a well-known franchise and I’m all about it.  PopCap Games has packaged a ton into this free game from single player campaigns to ranked multiplayer, deck building, and crafting.  There are in-app purchases, naturally, but they seem far from necessary based on the amount of gems given for completing quests.  The Reddit community is pretty small but is growing.  There’s even a post as of this writing of someone who is going to stream playing.  I hope PvZ: Heroes takes off and if it does, I’ll be there.

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