Plant vs Undead review: Can this NFT game bounce back?

After a sudden surge in interest, tower defence NFT game Plant vs Undead has hit a rough patch. But does it still have good gameplay?

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The biggest problem with Plant vs Undead is that it's bereft of original ideas. You've probably already gathered that from its name. A shameless play on blockbuster mobile game series Plants vs Zombies, it not only borrows its inspiration's genre, but also its aesthetic. Elsewhere, the game also sticks to tried and true mobile game monetisation strategies, although now tied to the NFT gaming space instead.

But being a slave to previous success stories is hardly a crime in the video games industry. Just ask Mario. He could point an accusatory white-gloved finger at just about every platformer that's followed him down his green pipe. Games can be mimics, but still be plenty of fun all the same.

So, is Plant vs Undead fun? Is it the gameplay that has seen the NFT game's PVU token drop in price from US$25 to US$0.25 in just 3 months? Let's find out in Finder's Plant vs Undead review.

Introducing Planet Plants

As mentioned, being original either isn't in the skillset for the developer of Plant vs Undead or simply isn't of interest. Case in point: the game is set on Planet Plants. This is despite the fact there is no shortage of animals running around.

That said, these animals are now the undead. A meteor crashed into the planet, bringing with it some sort of disease that has turned the creatures into mindless zombies hell-bent on killing all the Mother Trees dotting the colourful, if cartoony, landscape. Luckily, the other flora of Planet Plants also mutated following the meteor's arrival, giving them special abilities and powers to fight back.

Fade to gameplay, where undead creatures amble towards a Mother Tree while your army of plants goes all Triffid on them.

What formats is Plant vs Undead on?

The developer has gone with a mobile-first approach, with iOS and Android supported as of the end of 2021. There is also the hint of a PC version on the website, but when I clicked on it to download that version, no game was forthcoming. Consoles haven't been ruled out, but they also haven't been explicitly mentioned.

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Tower defence at its core

The heart of the gameplay is classic mobile-style tower defence gaming. You have your army of plants, starting with 6 freebies and then building from there with plants that are randomised NFTs that require an investment – either monetary or in time – to acquire.

PvE

In the player vs environment (PvE) experience, you find yourself in a stretch of forest. The Mother Tree you must defend is on one side, and the undead creatures – think turtles, snails, butterflies and wolves – are ambling in from the right. In between are 8 grids on which you can deploy a selection of your plants.

Once placed, these plants will defend the Mother Tree without any hands-on action from you. They'll fire off their special abilities, delivering damage based on their stats. The stats can be accentuated through the way that they are placed, allowing you to mix and match the 9 elements – or better yet group them – to up your attacking power.

Adding to the strategy is your Light Energy (LE) pool. There's a capped amount when you start and actions such as levelling up a plant, deploying a plant or moving it to a different grid spot deplete it. Thankfully, every time you kill one of the undead, it tops back up. So, thinking fast on your feet in the small gap between waves on how you want to spend LE to change your attack strategy is where the game hits its stride.

As well as gathering Light Energy during combat, you also earn a small PVU drop at the end of each wave. This is the game's token, which can be exchanged for real cash. Waves are never-ending; you just see how long you can last.

PvP

The PvP mode, which as of November 2021 includes ranked arena matches, follows a similar gameplay experience. However, you've also got to summon the undead creatures you want to send against your opponent, which adds another layer of strategy. It's important to note that when playing in PvP mode, you use a clone of your NFT plants in battle, not your actual, precious NFT.

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But it's also a farm sim

In the moments outside of the tower defence gameplay, you have Farm Mode. This is where the game steps on a bindy and stumbles into some stinging nettle. The game runs on 2 economies: Light Energy (the in-game money) and PVU (the real-world token). They are interchangeable. You can earn Light Energy from grinding away in the game or top it up with a purchased PVU token at your leisure.

Your goal in Farm Mode is twofold. Firstly, you want to buy land on which you can grow a crop of plants, which can harvest you a certain amount of Light Energy every day. But better yet is buying a seed, which takes some serious LE grinding or some PVU. A seed will grow into a randomly selected NFT plant that can be used in combat. It's randomised between 9 elements, 5 classes and 4 rarities, and as well as giving you a significant lift in combat, holds a real value on the open market.

Farm Mode isn't a set and forget, however. It needs to be managed. You need to buy pots that only last a certain number of days, water your plants regularly, scare off crows and deal with weather events. You must nurture the things to ensure you keep getting Light Energy or a plant fit for fighting.

The grind

Resource management and toil gameplay can be immersive. Just look at Animal Crossing, Jurassic World Evolution or even Minecraft. But here, the demands don't feel like they are designed for fun, but instead to entice you to spend. Pots only last a handful of days. Water is used and needs to be replenished daily. Random events can appear at any time forcing constant checks. Even when you play a seed, you must wait 24 hours for it to flower for some unknown reason.

There are even fricking loot boxes.

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So, is Plant vs Undead any fun?

The core tower defence gameplay may not be innovative, but it's still fun. The inoffensive visuals, escalating threat and constant – if shallow – micromanagement of your defence strategy is enough to keep you engaged. The interface is reasonably easy to follow, although selecting which 8 plants to deploy into any given game isn't obvious. And the sound effects of plants firing repeatedly punish your ears.

I would have preferred a more rewarding way of understanding how each successful wave is upping the value of your plants – especially given they're an NFT. And indeed, that side of things, which is vital given Plant vs Undead is an NFT game, feels a bit nerfed. There's no breeding, for example, to allow you to create truly unique plants of your own. Each plant is capped at how many times it can be used in a mode, ultimately undervaluing it. It's a tactic that would make it a poor return from the perspective of renting it to scholars.

Farm Mode has potential, but as of December 2021, it's withering on the vine. There are counters and timers and constant checks that are straight out of the Mobile Monetisation 101 handbook, putting roadblocks on fun. For example, you must buy your water. You can't go forage for it. You can't craft a bigger bucket, dig a dam or build a water pump and some sprinklers over time. It's not tied to gameplay.

Roadmap

The developer does appear to be working on this, however. The PVU 3.0 updates include minigames tied to resource gathering. There's one for mining, for example, and another for foraging. So at least you're doing something to tie economy mechanics to gameplay as part of the game's rehabilitation process.

However, if gathered resources just fall back into the same timer/countdown mechanics we've already seen, then they won't solve the problem.

The server is also being upgraded, and I've seen some images of new modes that are not yet in the base game. For example, one image shows you having 3 rows of 4 plants on the battlefield.

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How much does Plant vs Undead cost to play?

You can play Plant vs Undead for free. When you start, you'll get a Mother Tree to protect and 6 plants to defend it with in the free-to-play component. That is 2 short of the 8 you can fit on a battlefield (see what they did there). You can, therefore, grind like crazy to earn the Light Energy you need to get access to the assets of genuine value in the game.

Alternatively, you can buy your way into a more competitive and deeper experience via PVU tokens. How much this will cost you is market dependent, but as of the time of writing, that expense is well down on Plant vs Undead's peak prices. This does allow you to get into the PVU ecosystem at a fraction of the potential price.

Verdict

At its core, Plant vs Undead has the potential to marry tower defence gameplay and farm simulation into a fun experience – not an original experience, but a fun one. But as a play-to-earn game with NFTs of genuine value, it's unclear as of the end of 2021 if you can invest in this game for anything more than said fun. As in, you'll likely not make a fortune.

In my opinion, there are quite a few improvements that need to be made to the gameplay – all of which would take the focus off timers and counters and put it more on interaction and discovery – for it to scale back up to a force in the NFT games space. And far less dumping of PVU by the developers.
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