Platforms: Xbox 360
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: Mastertronic Games
PopCap Hits Volume 1 was a bit flaccid, to put it mildly. The small selection of XBLA puzzlers didn't quite manage to justify its price tag- even without one of its games stubbornly refusing to play in HD. In contrast, Volume 2 is a completely different beast; engorged with content and throbbing with barely-contained value.
The package contains the full XBLA versions of Plants vs Zombies (GOTY Edition), Heavy Weapon, Zuma Deluxe and Feeding Frenzy 2; providing a much stronger lineup than its predecessor along with a higher raw value in terms of Microsoft Points. However, since these games are the XBLA versions rather than updated reissues, any achievements or saved progress will persist if you've brought them before. Value for money is significantly decreased if you happen to own any of the four titles in question.
Right, let's take a look at each game in turn.
Plants vs Zombies
PopCap's arboreal smash hit is more than just a game. It's a bona fide phenomenon and a deeply engrained part of gaming culture thanks to its massive sales figures and memorable art design. Plants vs Zombies earned every shred of respect it commands by simply being fantastic.
Filthy undead hordes are descending upon your immaculate suburban garden, and only an array of adorable necrophagous plants can hold them off. You'll need a good head for tactics as indirect, direct fire and obstacles soon provide a wealth of strategic options that belie the sugary presentation.
I can't tell you anything about PvZ that you don't already know, but it's worth noting that the XBLA version comes with a host of new minigames and GOTY content. If you don't already own it, you should seriously consider nabbing it as part of this package.
If Plants vs Zombies is the headline act, Heavy Weapon is the surprisingly awesome support band that you'll talk about long after the gig has come to an end. You'll buy the album, pawn your belongings to afford the merch and will soon find yourself satisfying the depraved whims of jaded bouncers in order to gain entry to its dressing room.
That's enough tortured metaphors. Heavy Weapon is a frantic arcade Shoot 'Em Up that tasks players with decimating communist military forces with the titular radioactive war machine. Fleets of incoming aircraft and massive firepower soon provides a stiff challenge, but luckily the plucky little tank is more than capable of mounting terrifying ordnance of its own (including a ridiculously-powerful megalaser with its very own voiceover).
The singleplayer campaign allows you to choose your own weapons systems and engage in some good old fashioned shooting action, but the real joy of Heavy Weapon is to be found with a few mates, some beers and a couch. Heavy Weapon provides arguably the best single-screen multiplayer on the Xbox 360. You'll need tight cooperation and some barefaced luck to overcome the incredible odds and live to tell the tale- but competing for points encourages underhanded tactics and ruthless kill-stealing. It's compelling, addictive and utterly brilliant.
Zuma Deluxe provides the 'match 3' part of the proceedings. Players control a ball-spitting frog statue that has to fend off an implacable stream of coloured spheres that roll towards the score zone. Matching three in a row causes them to disappear - and as you'd expect, idle curiosity soon blossoms into rampant compulsion.
However, there's a sting in the tail. The charming visuals and friendly smiling frog mask a cut-throat difficulty curve and tricksy, intricate level design. The action actually feels more like an old-school arcade classic rather than a casual diversion, right down to the level of frustration and rush of endorphins upon completing a difficult set of levels. The slightest hesitation or sweaty finger slip can cost you a life... and since levels can only be played in groups of five, failing on the fifth stage will cause you no end of aggravation.
Beware. Zuma is far more ferocious than it first appears.
Feeding Frenzy 2
This addictive little eat 'em up subscribes to a familiar formula. As a little fish in a big pond, you'll need to gobble up smaller marine fauna to gradually increase in size and eventually scoff even the biggest critters. Slick controls, sharp HD visuals and new acrobatic flips make it more than just disc space filler, but Feeding Frenzy 2 ups the ante by adding a slew of fun (if forgettable) multiplayer minigames into the equation. The singleplayer campaign is also surprisingly meaty and provides perfect fodder for dipping in and out of.
Feeding Frenzy 2 is far superior to the original and a worthwhile diversion in its own right... making the first game's inclusion in Volume 1 seem more than a little redundant.
- Plants vs Zombies is as exceptional as ever
- Heavy Weapon provides peerless multiplayer
- Zuma and Feeding Frenzy 2 are more than just filler material
- Bare-bones menu
- Zuma is harder than it looks
- No added value for existing fans
The Short Version: PopCap Hits Volume 2 is an essential purchase for anyone who doesn't already own Plants vs Zombies on XBLA. Great games and massive value make this package impossible to ignore.