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    Plants vs. Zombies 2 Updated Hands-On Preview

    After our E3 demo of Plants vs. Zombies 2, we were left desiring a lot more hands-on time to really get a feel for the game’s new freemium model. Now that PVZ 2 has soft launched in the New Zealand and Australian App Stores, we got exactly what we wanted– many more hours of planting defenses and knocking the heads off of hungry zombies. We’ve been playing it nonstop, and haven’t had to spend a dime so far.

    The real star of Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time is Crazy Dave, the taco-loving psycho who wears a pot on his head. Surprisingly, Dave has acquired a talking van that can travel through time, which Dave wants to use to revisit 2009 and reclaim his lost taco. 2009 happens to be when the first PVZ launched, which is just one of many clever jokes that Popcap has peppered throughout the text.

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    Dave’s dialogue is amusing, but it’s a small part of the value crammed into PVZ 2. For the first ten levels, set in ancient Egypt, you’ll do more than just earn new weapons and battle new zombies. There’s a matching minigame, for instance, where zombies march forward behind large tiles. Like a memory game with an action twist, you have to reveal pairs of symbols in order to fight off the attack.

    Once you complete the first set of ten levels, you can replay them with much tougher mission parameters. This will earn you extra stars, which you’ll need to visit the Pirate and Wild West-themed levels. Some of these challenge missions will limit your total amount of sunshine or plants, or add barriers or special endangered plants that the zombies aren’t allowed to touch. The amount of variety is very impressive, and the challenge starts to ramp up considerably halfway through the Egypt levels.

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    However, we suspect that the high degree of challenge is where Popcap expects to make most of their money on this freemium download. When you’re investing a lot of time into beating a tough challenge, spending in-game currency on a screen-clearing special move seems a lot more tempting. So far, we’ve avoided spending any real money, and the PVZ formula is addictive enough that we’ve earned plenty of in-game currency just by earning stars.

    We’re extremely impressed with this version of PVZ 2, and so far it seems like it was well worth the wait. The amount of levels and gameplay variety gives you a lot to do without spending any cash, and the new characters are brilliantly realized. We especially like the Egypt level’s archaeologist zombie, who holds a torch that can burn through any plant he touches. You’ll even find some slight gameplay improvements, like the ability to swipe to pick up sunshine instead of tapping.

    Some players may end up spending real money to win, but dedicated and skilled players will feel like PVZ 2 is a free gift from Popcap. We’ll let you know when it launches in the US App Store, but if you have access to it, we highly recommend downloading and playing PVZ 2 for yourself right away.

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