Plants vs. Zombies Heroes: Too Unoriginal, Too Late

EA and PopCap arrive too late to the Hearthstone party.

Plants vs Zombies Heroes Featured Image
EA/PopCap

Plants vs. Zombies Heroes has soft launched on iOS and Android, and I'm not sure why. The game is a collectible card game in the vein of Hearthstone, but with the characters of Plants vs. Zombies. You use sunlight or brains – the game's mana equivalent – to play cards with health and damage counters, much like Hearthstone. But instead of playing all cards on a field, you have 5 specific lanes to play, with roof and aquatic lanes providing some wrinkles to the game.

Defeating the other player's hero is the key, with attacks happening in each lane one by one, each unit attacking the other even if they die. The turns have the zombies play units first, the plants playing units and "tricks" – special abilities that can affect the battle – and then zombies playing their tricks before the battle commences. Knocking the other player down to zero, with events like superblocks helping to mix things up, is the key. It's all a very familiar formula, albeit with a few twists. 

The problem with Plants vs. Zombies Heroes is that it exists as a card game in an age where Hearthstone is dominant, and Clash Royale has come on the scene as a post-Hearthstone game, applying its own take to the CCG and MOBA genres that so many others have tried to capitalize on. And it's not that there isn't room in the CCG genre for more than one game. It's that in 2016, you need to be innovating more than what Plants vs. Zombies Heroes is doing.

After all, its lane-based mechanic is used in other games...like the recently-released Days of Discord, which was in soft launch for months ahead of Plants vs. Zombies Heroes' soft launch. I don't know if the roof and water lanes are enough variations to make this game stand out as something truly different.

I don't even think that the game is simple enough to be a sort of "Hearthstone for people afraid to get into Hearthstone" game at this point. There's still a lot of heroes and cards to manage. Clash Royale does a lot to simplify all this down to where there's choice, but not to an overwhelming degree. I don't get that sense with PvZ Heroes. The singleplayer campaign will have to do a great job at that. I once recommended the original Plants vs. Zombies as an excellent example of how to do a game that progressed well, to where it would be possible to learn a complex system through steady incremental improvements. But here, you get a basic tutorial and then you're thrown into difficult matches against the computer, and can even play as the zombies in multiplayer with a little introduction to how their separate mechanics might work. It's baffling because it feels like the exact opposite of what a Plants vs. Zombies game should be.

Plants vs. Zombies Heroes feels a lot like other clones and adaptations in that it lacks a compelling reason to exist. Some games combine genres in interesting ways, like Clash Royale. Others combine disparate genres – Leap of Fate isn't a competitive game, but it's a fun mix of a dual-stick shooter with card game mechanics.

Call of Champions does a great job at shortening the MOBA play session length in order to make for a fun experience that's still mobile-friendly, even if the monetization has been disappointing. Plants vs. Zombies Heroes doesn't have that hook. It's got a known brand behind it, and maybe that helps the game have some longevity.  And it's not a bad game, some people find it really fun,  it's just inessential. Maybe it'll do well enough for itself, as the Garden Warfare FPS spinoff has done. And maybe it clicks with a new audience. But we're already seeing Clash Royale do so well, and this game is a step back from that.

This is trying to ape the hot game of the past while the market just took a big step forward elsewhere. They have Hearthstone already, and they are playing that, or one of its countless other clones. Is there really such a huge audience of people who like CCGs, and want to jump ship? I'm not sure this is the right game. And I don't think that "friendlier variant of Hearthstone" is this game's strength, either.

I think EA should really pay attention to the reception of Plants vs. Zombies Heroes, and not be so set on releasing it. Supercell does it – Smash Land was a fun game that wasn't up to their standards, so they axed it even in soft launch. It's better to cut losses while ahead instead of letting a game that could be a drag on the brand and unprofitable linger. If the game doesn't make money in soft launch and if players don't like it, why not ax it? This game feels like it's outdated already, and its new elements do little to redeem it. A big overhaul to the core game to make it something even more original would likely be the right move. Plants vs. Zombies is a great license, and there's no reason why more games set in its world shouldn't work – but I think they need something better than this.