Popcap Hits! volume two: review

  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Mastertronic
  • Developer: PopCap
  • Players: 1-2
  • Site: www.popcap.com

We’re not sure if the cynic is here or in Popcap’s marketing department, but it is difficult to discern a reason why this compilation of some of Popcap’s online casual hits should be released when each and every one of them can be downloaded direct from XBLA for less than the full retail price of the disc.

Yes, there is an argument that there are gamers out there who don’t have a connection to the internet – but since this is a website, none of them are going to be reading this. On top of that, the full SRP (£29.99) is too much for a collection of games that had an original budget which couldn’t have factored in hard copy sales when they were originally made; because some of these titles date back to the early noughties.

Every bone in your body screams cash-in at Popcap Hits Volume 2, and some of them are hollering almost as loudly about the miserly amount of titles – four – on offer. We don’t for one minute believe this disc is full to the brim, and are sure they could have slapped a few more classic casual games onto it to make it a slightly more appealing package.

But it’s here, and we’re going to review it. So let’s start with the bad. You’d think that since these games are all on the one disc that when you quit out of one you would go straight back to the main menu to be able to start another, but that seems to have been like too much hard work for PopCap. Quit one game and you’re dropped right back to the dashboard, where you have to start the disc up all over again – extremely frustrating for those of you with messed up consoles that like to make you open and close the tray repeatedly before agreeing to boot any games up.

The inherent charm that PopCap inject into the majority of their titles is distinctly lacking on the game select menu; a half-baked screen that does nothing to draw you in. But, ignoring the huge gripes above, what of the games themselves?

There is only one title here that’s got a big enough addictive personality to squeeze more than half an hour’s gaming out of you, and that’s Plants vs Zombies. It’s a one screen tower defence game that was, quite rightly, a monster hit on the iPhone; with a charming, cutesy art style and a highly playable mechanic. Your home is under attack from zombies, six lanes of them, and you need to plant out some zombie slaying vegetation to keep them at bay. It doesn’t sound like much, but you try dipping into this game for a quick 20 minutes without winding up still sitting in your pants at two in the morning planting out mushrooms and pea shooters to destroy disco dancing zombie cannon fodder.

Feeding Frenzy 2 and, er, not Zuma.

As a downloadable game from XBLA, Plants Vs Zombies is superb, and if you take anything from this review, make sure it’s the decision to drop this into your hard drive and lose an evening or two inside its wonderful world of wackiness.

Of the other three titles, only Zuma has any decent track record. It’s been a life saver for many a bored office worker over the past decade, with its simple puzzle mechanic of shooting coloured balls out of a frog’s mouth into a chain of more coloured balls, destroying any chain of colours longer than three balls and temporarily halting the chain’s progress into the dead zone that awaits at the end of the run.

But there’s a world of difference between sitting at your desk wishing you weren’t actually there and sitting on your sofa wishing you were playing something with a bit more meat on its bones. At work, it takes about half an hour of playing Zuma before the boredom washes over you. At home it takes about three minutes. If you’ve ever played Zuma in the office, the last thing you want from your home console is to be reminded just how much you hate being at work…

And it doesn’t get any better. Heavy Weapon is a lacklustre 2D, side-scrolling shoot ’em up that is reminiscent of Moon Patrol back on the Atari 2600. It’s so meh, it’s not worth going into detail over. Even online in the office, playing for free, it’s hard to muster up the will to keep going after you’ve been killed the first time. At home it’s impossible.

And bringing up the rear is the admittedly charming Feeding Frenzy 2, in which you start out as a very small fish that needs to eat smaller fish in order to grow into a bigger fish that can then eat even bigger fish. And so it goes on. Yes, it does look quite lovely, and it would no doubt keep younger children entertained for a while; but as a console game on a hard disc, it struggles to offer real value for money.

The only reason we would ever suggest picking this up is if you don’t have an internet connection at home and you’ve spotted the compilation on sale in a bargain bin for less than five quid. Plants Vs Zombies is a great game, but to pay full price for such a short and sweet title (made that little bit more bulky here with the addition of some unlockable mini-games) is one step too far.

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Written by Neil

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