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Anton Galang / Lifewire
Zany sense of humor and aesthetic
Accessible to new or young players
Strong selection of play modes
Broad variety of characters and customization
Less depth than "serious" shooters
Weaker campaign modes
Bursting with comical style and personality, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is a team-based third-person shooter that's nicely suited for younger players.
Our reviewer purchased Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville so that they could do a thorough play-through of the game. Keep reading for their full take.
To embrace the game's pun-filled writing, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is part of a universe that blossomed from its humble roots as a casual, free PC game of the tower defense variety. This includes planting the seed of the franchise's signature hilarity and oddball rivalry into a series of multiplayer third-person shooters: Garden Warfare, Garden Warfare 2, and now Battle for Neighborville. This latest entry resurrects with not only a new name, but also new classes and revamped game modes, both in terms of cooperative player-vs-environment (PvE) and competitive player-vs-player (PvP) action.
Battle for Neighborville is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC, but I played it on Xbox One. If you're looking for a shooter on our list of the best Xbox One kids' games, this one's a no brainer.
Pop the disc into your Xbox One for the first time and you'll have some installation and updates to wait through. The process took about half an hour in total for me, but during installation the game lets you while away the time in a pared-back garden defense demo session.
When setup finishes, you're thrown right into the colorful social lobby/hub world of Neighborville, populated by your fellow players and important non-player characters (NPCs). You can switch to the zombie side at any time, but you're encouraged to start as a plant and go through tutorial missions led by a sunflower named Major Sweetie. These quick quests help orient you to all the features you can access from the lobby area, which is helpful since there's unfortunately no simple menu to navigate the game modes. Having to walk around to everything may be more immersive, but it's less convenient.
A central part of the hub world is Giddy Park, a carnival-themed battle area that's made for testing out characters and abilities alongside/against other players. It offers a safe place for newbies to start, with the co-op campaigns as the next suggested place for players to dig in.
You probably didn't pick up a Plants vs. Zombies game for the plot, and there's not much on offer here. You can set off with your party to one of three free-roam PvE regions (one for plants, one for zombies, and the Town Center shared by both) to play through a few storylines, but they're mostly strings of lighthearted, nonsensical missions. Most start with a quest-giver and end with a boss, with key items along the way to be earned by completing wacky sub-tasks. Round up a plant posse to stop a Wild West-style jailbreak. Save the tackling dummy worshipped by a zombie cult. The usual stuff.
Meeting even the silliest objectives, though, isn't always a walk in the park. You can't always see quest markers and objectives when you need to. While you can check the map and set a waypoint, navigation still can be more cumbersome than it should be. There are also some sections that seem overly tough to get past—it took me way too many tries to defend a taco store either solo or with a coop partner.
Where Battle for Neighborville leaves a more memorable mark is in the absurd, over-the-top (but inoffensive) dialogue that nearly every NPC spouts in your direction. It can be a lot to wade through if you're just trying to get to the action, but there are genuinely funny gems to be enjoyed if you're paying attention.
The relative simplicity of the gameplay makes it a nice entry point into the class-based shooter genre.
At the core of Battle for Neighborville's gameplay are its 20 characters—10 plants and 10 zombies. There are some analogs across the sides, but each for the most part has a distinct style of play. Five characters on each side are classified as damage-focused Attack classes. These include the undead explosion-loving 80s Action Hero and the stealth ninja mushroom Night Cap. Each side also has Defend classes, like the shield-wielding orange Citron and the zombie Space Cadets that can join up into a single powerful space station. Rounding out the selection are two Support classes per team that are focused on healing, crowd controls, and buffs.
Each character has three unique abilities they can use on cooldown, with over-the-top animations and effects that make them a blast to use. You can further customize them with a swappable selection of upgrades that boost abilities and alter other aspects of their performance—new upgrades are unlocked as you promote your units every ten levels. This all adds up to a lot of ways to play the game, and a lot of flexibility to try out a variety of builds for every character.
There are complaints among the player community about balance issues that the developers need to address, but it shouldn't be a concern to most casual players. The addition of unlimited sprinting in Battle for Neighborville has also received mixed response. It can make your life easier when catching up to a skirmish or fleeing one, but it can be annoying when your opponents scamper away before you can finish them off.
To be real, as someone who's not even close to an elite player at more "serious" multiplayer shooters, I found Battle for Neighborville easy enough to pick up and be decent at from the jump. At the same time, I still had a lot to learn about how to best use abilities and get around the maps, and I fed opponents a lot of easy vanquishes in my initial 14 hours of play. The idea of improving enough to hold my ground against veteran players was a nice incentive to keep at it, and it doesn't feel like an impossible challenge.
It won't be hard for most players to find a favorite mode based on their preferred brand of bedlam.
There's just no rest in the eternal war between anthropomorphic plants and reanimated corpses. The variety of online PvP modes available to Battle for Neighborville players can keep you busy battling almost endlessly. Turf Takeover puts you in a sprawling 8v8 conflict with multiple objectives, while Battle Arena is a more intimate 4v4 deathmatch that forces you to use a different character each round. Team Vanquish is a straightforward race to 50 kills, and Garden/Graveyard Ops are throwback cooperative defense matches against multiple enemy waves. Finally, there's a Mix Mode that cycles through three more team battle variants.
It won't be hard for most players to find a favorite mode based on their preferred brand of bedlam. Rotating weekly events and challenges, though, encourage you to concentrate on certain modes or characters, often with limited-time cosmetic pieces as rewards. These updates roll out regularly, and the cycle continues.
There's no mistaking the visual style that Battle for Neighborville is going for. Colorful creatures jump around in a flurry of leaves and patched-together machinery. Bright laser beams, flame walls, and electric bolts zip back and forth. Cheese-filled tubes and giant marshmallow projectiles pass overhead. It's over-the-top and cartoony and proud of it.
To add to the madness, players can customize the appearance of their characters with costumes, hats, and a hodgepodge of other accessories earned through challenges or bought with in-game currency on the randomized prize machine. And these customizations go well beyond subtle uniform changes. There are some very distinct wearables to mix and match and show off your character's unique look and flair, which, for many players, is plenty of incentive to keep up the fight.
The Giddy Park hub area itself gets a periodic makeover, too, with dramatic changes to the environment based on the seasons or holidays. (I'm playing during the winter-themed Snow Day festival.)
Colorful creatures jump around in a flurry of leaves and patched-together machinery.
A major selling point of Battle for Neighborville is that it takes the fun of multiplayer shooters—usually more realistic in their depictions of violence—and makes it more appropriate for younger players. You're still trying to attack and defeat your foes with intense weaponry, and the undead are everywhere, but there's no blood or horror or references to adult-themes. Even the "kills" are rebranded as "vanquishes" across the game.
The relative simplicity of the gameplay also makes it a nice entry point into the class-based shooter genre. My daughter was too far below the target age range to be competitive, but she was still able to enjoy jumping into combat, deploying wacky abilities, and assembling hilarious ensembles.
The biggest knock against Battle for Neighborville's price is the quantity of competitive shooters available for free, costing only the price of an online subscription. But if you're looking for a more lighthearted, family-friendly alternative, Battle for Neighborville will give you plenty for your money, including a potentially endless amount of replay value from its many modes, regular challenges and rewards, and ongoing updates.
You can also spend real money on premium currency (Rainbow Stars!) to buy specific costume pieces, available in limited time windows. You'll be able to choose what you want rather than earn them through challenges or get random pulls with in-game currency. But these are all cosmetic and add no gameplay advantage, so it's a potential life lesson for younger players on what's worth—or not worth—your money.
Battle for Neighborville enters a shooter arena filled with established heavyweights, and it waltzes in with a Pea Cannon. But does that mean it can't hold its own? One of the biggest names among its competitors is Overwatch, another team-based hero shooter with a diverse cast of characters, complementary class types, and unique abilities.
A fundamental difference in gameplay is Overwatch's first-person perspective, rather than a third-person view that steps back and emphasizes your avatar. And, of course, Overwatch's competitive depth has made it a popular esports title, something Battle for Neighborville can't match. But sometimes competition isn't the most important thing if your goal is a good time. There's the matter of your players' maturity levels: Overwatch also sports a cartoonish style, but it's not as exaggerated as Battle for Neighborville's, and contains less kid-friendly elements that warrant its Teen ESRB rating. Overwatch also doesn't offer the option of solo or offline co-op PvE campaigns.
Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best Xbox One games.
There are more refined shooters out there, but Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is one that offers large helpings of kid-friendly, easy-to-pick up fun.
Fans of its high-energy art style and humor, in particular, will find a lot to keep them entertained for a long time.
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