Critical Play: Theme Only Games

For this Critical Play, I played 1 level of Plants vs Zombies and 1 level of Battle Cats. I actually played both of these games what feels like a lifetime ago, back in the early 2010s, and playing them again unearthed nostalgic memories and feelings that were buried deep inside me.

At their core, both PvZ and Battle Cats are tower defense games that require players to balance their field units and economy in order to complete the level. However, the themes of the game are quite different and contribute to vastly different experiences.

Plants vs Zombies

Developer: PopCap Games

Platform: Mobile

Plants vs. Zombies is a game where you must defend your home against a horde of zombies using the power of various garden plants. Players can place defensive plants along a limited number of rows, each of which costs different amounts of the main in-game resource of sun. In terms of fun offered, this game has mainly discovery (of new maps, enemies, and plants) and submission.

Plants vs. Zombies has a fun, clean visual aesthetic that contributes to a diverse experience.

The Battle Cats

Developer: PONOS

Platform: Mobile

The Battle Cats is a delightfully simple free app where you control one of two symmetric home bases on a single lane. Players can purchase different types of cats that steadily walk toward the enemy base, fighting their enemy counterparts on the way there. These are the main interactions of the game; there is much less tactical complexity overall compared to PvZ. This game also showcases discovery-fun and submission-fun in the same vein as PvZ.

Battle Cats: What even are these things.


While the gameplay loops are quite similar, the theming of each creates vast differences. The artwork and narrative are the greatest contributors to this – PvZ has detailed, cartoony artwork for both the goofy zombies and cutesy plants. Additionally, while the entire idea of plants battling zombies is a little ludicrous, the quality artwork ends up immersing the player into the experience. In contrast, Battle Cats’ art is more reminiscent of what a first grader would doodle while slacking off in class – the titular cats are generally all variations of an amorphous smiling blob with horrific stick legs. The entire narrative premise of the game is also absurd – you are told that these monstrous cats fully conquered the entire human world in the opening sequence. Whereas PvZ immerses the player into a vaguely nonsensical universe, Battle Cats amps this playfulness up to 11 and presents complete absurdity that the player must simply accept.

Overall, I feel that both are presented as fun and mindless tower defense games meant for all ages. Both use bright colors, playful artwork, and upbeat soundtracks to help the player relax and have fun. However, Battle Cats’ lackadaisical theming creates a more extreme version of mindlessness fun, which in some ways makes up for its lack of tactical complexity compared to PvZ.

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