I love to explore the relationship between the fictional worlds we create for movies, books, games, etc. and the real world.
Recreate the "Plants vs. Zombies" Experience for Free in Your Browser
Unless you've been living under a rock (or a tombstone), you've probably heard of Plants vs. Zombies.
Plants vs. Zombies, or PvZ, is an accessible, addictive, real-time strategy tower defense game which has been ported to almost every platform you can imagine since its release by PopCap Games in 2009. It has won critical acclaim from both critics and players and has a fairly diverse fan base.
PvZ is easy to pick up and play and provides quite a bit of entertainment considering the simplicity of its design. This combination of accessible and addictive gameplay has made it a huge hit with casual gamers, and has led naturally to many imitators as small developers try to recreate the success of this immensely popular game.
In this article, I'll take a look at some of the best games simlar to Plants vs. Zombies that I came across in my wanderings. All of the games listed in this article were played in Firefox on my desktop and are completely free to play.
"Plants vs. Zombies" Is a Tower Defense Game
Games like PvZ which require you to place units to block a horde of on-rushing enemies are called 'tower defense' games even though they don't all share the same style, and don't all involve towers.
Placing units along a convoluted path that enemies have to march through, or facing down hordes of enemies as a single hero are also common variations on tower defense gameplay.
A Quick Overview of Plants vs. Zombies-Style Tower Defense
If you've played Plants vs. Zombies, then you'll already have a very good idea how the games in this article are played. If you're not familiar with the original game (and I recommend you give it a try—there is a free to play trial version of Plants vs. Zombies online at PopCap that allows you to play several levels in exchange for a barrage of ads) the basic premiss is simple: there is a wave of zombies converging on your home and you need to plant unusual and dangerous plants in their way to stop them.
Each level in PvZ consists of a small grid with your house ('tower') on one side of the 'board', and your enemies on the other: enemies advance toward you along the rows of the grid, and you place units ('plants') in columns in the squares between them and your house.
Plants come in a variety of forms: some of them fire projectiles ('pea-shooters'), some of them serve as walls ('wall-nuts'), and others destroy groups of zombies like a grenade ('cherry bombs'). To plant a unit, you have to save up and expend energy in the form of sunlight. While sunlight falls naturally while you play (at least during the day), there are additional units ('sunflowers') that can be used to generate additional sunlight. Each unit has a recharge timer which has to wind down before you can plant another unit of that type.
The goal of the game is to defeat the advancing hordes of zombies by generating sunlight, buying units, and placing them strategically on the map to provide the best offensive and defensive capabilities.
The zombies also come in a variety of forms: some of them wear protective devices, like buckets or cones, on their heads that deflect your attacks, and others, like the pole-vaulters, can jump over your defenses. Placing units the map that are most effective against different types of zombies becomes part of the challenge of the game. (PvZ also gives you a 'shovel', which allows you to remove plants if you want to replace them with something more effective.) Once you place the unit, it performs its function automatically so that you can focus on generating more sunlight and placing more units.
The challenge in PvZ comes from managing your resources: too much or too little of one unit, or not placing the right kind of unit in time, may leave you vulnerable to an attack that you are not prepared for. The 'recharge' timer on units adds an additional layer of complexity to the game because you can't immediately follow one unit with another unit of the same type, which can be a problem if you need two of the same unit in more than one spot on the map at the same time.
As you advance through the levels, you gain access to new units with different strengths and weaknesses (and costs) but there is an upper limit to the number of different unit types you can use in each map. Part of the challenge of the game comes from deciding at the start of each level which units will be the most useful.
Although you know ahead of time which zombies you will be facing (and therefore have some idea which units are going to be more effective), the order and location of the zombies is determined randomly each time you play a map, so you never know for sure the 'ideal' location to place your units.
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"Plants vs. Zombies" Clones
This fairly detailed description of the PvZ formula can be applied to all of the games reviewed in this article as they all follow the PvZ formula pretty carefully. While some of these clones are quite good, I never found any of them to be quite as good as the original.
They all do some things differently, of course, and all have a distinctive visual style, but for the most part, they are fairly faithful copies of a very successful design. (That's not necessarily a bad thing; if you're a fan of the original game, it means you can hop right into these games for a very entertaining, if similar, experience.)
Here are the three best games like Plants vs. Zombies that I've come across in my wanderings:
- Toys vs. Nightmares
- Teelonians: Clan Wars
- Pirates of Teelonians
1. "Toys vs. Nightmares"
Toys vs. Nightmares was developed by Xplored and follows the Plants vs. Zombies core mechanics pretty closely.
The basic premise is that you are a young boy who has been sent to bed but can't sleep because he is plagued by nightmares. The 'nightmares' are conventional and campy creatures like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches and goblins. To defend yourself, you must use your arsenal of 'toys' which include things like Lego(TM) men, race cars, army men, teddy bears, and exploding dolls. To generate energy ('fantasy'), you read books.
Clicking on the books makes the pages turn faster and generates energy more quickly, which replaces the sun-harvesting in PvZ. When you destroy enemies, you gain coins which you can store in your piggy bank to buy new units and unlock additional unit slots between levels.
Toys vs. Nightmares has a number of different enemy types with different kinds of immunities, so placing units strategically is quite important. (You can remove units by placing them in your toy box.) Some enemy units fly over walls and can only be hit by toys that can hit flying enemies; other units, like the ghosts, are impervious to ordinary attacks and can only be destroyed by a certain type of unit and blocked by a special type of wall. While the early levels of TvN are fairly easy, I found it to be, on the whole, quite a bit more challenging than PvZ.
2. "Teelonians: Clan Wars"
Teelonians: Clan Wars, by Teelos Games, revolves around an invasion of primitive tribals attempting to overrun an island controlled by a slightly more advanced city state, somewhat reminiscent of the fall of Rome at the hands of barbarians.
Clan Wars has a more traditional tower defense theme than PvZ, with standard units like infantry, archers, pikemen, heavy shield bearing troops, and siege towers. It also includes a variety of spell-casters for heavy offensive attacks -- area of effect attacks, freezing to slow units, and summoned creatures to push enemy units back -- and healers, which provide some defensive advantages. Energy-generating units (fruit stands) are an important gameplay element, as they are in PvZ and TvN, though you can also collect coins from fallen opponents.
Unspent coins also carry over to new levels, so it's best to spend only as much as you need. Enemies run the gamut of weak cannon fodder, pole-vaulters, archers, shamans, heavy-duty cavalry, and war machines. Most units have particular vulnerabilities to opposing units (cavalry, for example, are vulnerable to pikemen), so, as in other PvZ tower defense games, it is important to match your units at the beginning of each level to the type of enemies that you will be facing. After each battle you receive additional research points which you can invest in recruiting new types of units. You can also disband existing units to free up research points for other units.
I found the difficulty in Clan Wars also to be somewhat higher than PvZ (which is, in my opinion, the easiest of these games); the initial levels are not too bad, but after several battles I reached a level that I simply could not beat: the number of enemies on the screen exceeded the recharge rates of my units, so I couldn't place units fast enough to counter the advancing hordes.
Teelos Games did recently increase the difficulty of the game following complaints that the original game had been too easy, so hopefully they will take another look at the difficulty and tweak it a little for these higher levels (or maybe you won't suck as much as I did).
Probably the most serious complaint I have about the game is that it is very laggy; often, the game would crawl to a slideshow, which caused a delay when selecting things with the mouse. This sometimes caused me to position units in incorrect spots, leading to additional grief on the battlefield. Clan Wars does allow you to swap units and remove units from the map to make room for other units, so it's not a game-breaking bug, but it did sometimes cause me a bit of frustration.
You can play Teelonians - Clan Wars free at PlayHub.
3. "Pirates of Teelonians"
Pirates of Teelonians, also developed by Teelos Games, makes a number of changes to the PvZ formula. The most significant change is that, in addition to selecting units, you can also choose from one of three different pirate captains and interact directly with the map as a 'super' unit.
As the captain, you can move from row to row to temporarily shore up offensive and defensive weaknesses like a combination movable wall/canon. Each of the captains also has additional weapons and abilities, like the ability to throw dynamite or summon undead champions, making your choice of captain a strategic decision. (Captain Bakuba, the voodoo pirate was my favorite.)
Energy generating units have also been removed from PoT, relieving you of the responsibility of deploying and defending units that take up precious space on the battlefield. The trade off is that all units now take time to set up: they don't begin working immediately, which forces you to think a little further ahead when preparing for onslaughts while your units are being built.
In place of energy, you collect coins from fallen enemies, which can be frustratingly slow at times. Any coins that you don't spend during a battle may be carried over from one level to the next, so there is a definite advantage in conserving them and only using as much as you need to beat the level.
Perhaps in compensation for the slow rate of coin accumulation, enemies drop a number of different power ups which you can use to upgrade your units. Burning, poisoning, stunning or otherwise incapacitating your enemies can make the difference between winning and losing a battle and is an easy way to temporarily shore up a weak line of defense.
Like PvZ, Pirates of Teelonians also has alternate mini-games between some of the levels. These 'canon defense' levels require you to destroy on-rushing hordes with canon-fire. Many enemies fly overhead in air balloons and can't be seen except in the radar widget at the bottom of the screen. As long as you keep your eye on your radar and try to hit all the red dots with your canon, you should be okay.
Like Clan Wars, Pirates suffers at times from serious frame-rate lag which sometimes costs you the battle, and the hud sometimes interfered with the gameplay area: on several occasions I found my game obscured by a new window which I had opened accidentally by clicking on the PlayHub button when trying to move my captain to the bottom of the map or found my game interrupted by opening the options menu when I meant to fire at an enemy flying overhead during the canon mini-game. These are relatively minor issues, however, and for a free game the experience was, on the whole, very enjoyable.
You can play Pirates of Teelonians free at PlayHub.
Samuel Franklin on August 30, 2014:
Huge PvZ addict and also a great fan of the free games you've listed here (played them before), all really capture the PvZ feel and highly recommended!
Sarah Forester from Australia on February 05, 2014:
Love this genre and the fact that there are free alternatives sounds like a win to me!
Hanu Potgieter on May 19, 2013:
AAWWEESSOOMMEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! cool gamre
Arun Kumar from United Kingdom on September 17, 2012:
awesome juice. I found it very useful. Bookmarked it...
BrainFood4u on July 18, 2012:
I like playing plants and zombies and also Warcraft 3.
Djaak from Johannesburg, South Africa on June 24, 2012:
Awesome article. I enjoy Tower defense games a lot. Stared playing them on the warcraft 3. Good work with the article, I think I am going to try the Teelonians Clan Wars one.
j-u-i-c-e (author) from Waterloo, On on June 22, 2012:
@JGG: Don't worry, JGG. I was jk. "IT'S EFFING PAC-MAN!" Best.Review.Ever. :D
John Roberts from South Yorkshire, England on June 22, 2012:
I really don't think I can review any of these unfortunately due to them being so similar to each other. I mean, it's like trying to review Pac-man - "IT'S EFFING PAC-MAN, THERE'S YOUR REVIEW!" is what I often say.
I can try though, but I doubt it'd reach my minimum of 1000 words. ^^
j-u-i-c-e (author) from Waterloo, On on June 21, 2012:
@JGG: Thanks for the vote. I can't wait to hear your scathing reviews. ;)
John Roberts from South Yorkshire, England on June 21, 2012:
Some of these games look great and I might end up giving them a go! I remember playing this on WoW, in a quest called "zombies ate my grains!". If you win it, you get a singing sunflower companion - I always thought that was funny.
I need something to play other than Warfare 1917 and other upgrade games, so I'll have to give these a shot. Voted up, useful and interesting ^^