Critical Play: Theme Only Games – Plants vs Zombies and The Battle Cats
Basic information about Plants vs Zombies
Name of game: Plants vs Zombies
Creator: Popcap Games
Platform: Played on iPhone app; Although it was first released for Windows and Mac OS X, is now available to play on consoles, handhelds, and mobile devices.
Target Audience: Children and adults ages 10+
How theme changes the experience of Plants vs Zombies
Plants vs Zombies is a single-player Player vs Game tower defense game, where the player must defend their home against hordes of incoming zombies by purchasing and placing plants on their lawn. These plants can either attack or defend against incoming zombies or produce the game’s currency – sun. At each round of the game, the Objective is to Defend; to allocate plants on the lawn in a way that will effectively stave off the horde of incoming zombies at each round.
There are two Outcomes at each round of this game: 1) The player wins: successfully defends their home against the round’s zombie invasion, or 2) The player loses: the zombies reach the player’s house. In terms of Procedures and Rules, at each round of the game, the player must garner enough sun (which can be collected from the sky or by planting sun-bearing plants like Sunflowers) to purchase plants to defend the house from zombies. Plants come with a variety of different abilities for defense and attack, and thus cost different amounts of sun. After winning each round, the player usually unlocks new plants that they can use to attack or defend against ever increasingly fast, strong, and resilient types of zombies.
The intended aesthetics of fun in this game are primarily Challenge and Fantasy, both of which are powered by the game’s themes. There are two prominent themes in this game – plants (the player’s side) and zombies (the “game”/opponent’s side). On the plant side, all the weapons and defense objects of choice are plant-themed; from Peashooters to Wall-nuts and Potato Mines to Cherry Bombs, each plant has a function that is a play on its name and the plant it’s supposed to represent.
On the zombie side, nearly all of the zombies look the same, but are sporting different objects that give them a special ability. For example, the Pole Vaulting Zombie is capable of vaulting over the first plant in front of it, while the ConeHead Zombie has a cone that serves as a protective shield over its head that makes it more difficult to kill than normal zombies.
The themes create a cohesiveness and consistency that drive home the Fantasy aesthetic of the game by pulling the player into a world where plants battle it out against zombies during an apocalypse. These themes also build a simple narrative to serve as scaffolding for the Challenge aesthetic. By enhancing the intended aesthetics of this game, the themes of plants and zombies elevate and refine the player’s overall gaming experience.
Basic information about The Battle Cats
Name of game: The Battle Cats
Creator: PONOS Corporation
Platform: Played on iPhone app; also available on Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android, Nintendo 3DS
Target Audience: Presumably children and adults ages 5+
How theme changes the experience of The Battle Cats
The Battle Cats is a single-player Player vs Game tower defense game, where the player builds up an army of cats to take over cities from other cat armies all over the world. At each round of the game, the Objective is to Capture; to destroy the enemy’s base by deploying members of the player’s cat army before the enemy forces take over the player’s base.
There are two Outcomes to this game: 1) The player wins: successfully destroys the enemy cat army’s base first while protecting their own base, or 2) The player loses: the player’s base is destroyed by the enemy cat army first. The Procedures and Rules for this game are straightforward: at each round of the game (battle), the player must wait for currency to accumulate (which does so automatically at a fixed rate) before gaining the ability to deploy cat fighters. If enough currency is accumulated, the player can level up, which speeds up the rate that currency accumulates. Different types of cats have different abilities and powers (which vary based on the “cost” of deploying them), and leveling up will unlock each cats’ true form and power. After winning each battle, the player unlocks different special items.The intended aesthetics of fun in this game are primarily Challenge and Fantasy, both of which are powered by the game’s theme.
Given the plethora of tower defense games out there that are based on an extremely similar game mechanics framework, theme is truly what drives the experience of The Battle Cats and likely what has made it so popular over the past several years especially in Japan and Korea. As revealed by the title of the game, the theme of this game revolves around cats. The first thing the player sees when opening the game is text describing the premise of the game; the threat of The Battle Cats.
Not only are the fighting units of this game cats themselves; all the resources in this game are also cat-themed. For example, the reward the player receives if they log on every day is a new Cat Stamp. The currency that the player maintains to purchase items from the Store outside of battles is Cat Food. The upgrades that the player can purchase from the Store are things called “Cat Jobs,” “Sniper the Cat,” “Cat CPU,” and so on.
As a result, the player is immersed in a world that maintains a consistent theme and fantastical narrative of the player leading an army of cats to take over the world. This does a stellar job of enhancing the Fantasy aesthetic of the game while simultaneously making the Challenge aesthetic more compelling. Every victory over a battle with enemy cats furthers the player’s ultimate goal of conquering cities across the global map, adding a sense of purpose to each conquest. By enhancing the intended aesthetics of this game, the cat theme ultimately renders the experience as one that is continuously engaging.