‘Plants vs. Zombies 2’ Guide: How To Spend as Little Real Money as Possible

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986893_largerLast week, we went pretty hard with the release of Plants vs. Zombies 2 (Free). I mean, it’s easily one of the biggest games of the year, so why the heck not? Going back a bit further, we played through a demo of the game at E3 back in June, and TA Play’d the soft-launch version of the game the following month. With the full release version seemingly not very different from the soft-launch version, we put out our full 5 star review as well as what our forum members thought about the game. Finally, we chose it as our Game of the Week last week, which isn’t surprising.

So, we’re back with even more PvZ goodness in the form of a guide to help you get the most bang for your buck out of the game. Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a free-to-play title, but as has been the common impression from just about everybody who has actually played the game, it’s easily one of the most generous free games to come along in a long time–possibly ever.

That makes this guide sort of weird as, compared to something like our Real Racing 3 Guide, there’s really no solid tactic to spend less money. The IAP in the game is strictly for “cheater" type items, like a selection of special plants and power-ups that are extremely powerful and will help you out tremendously if you’re in a pinch. They are entirely optional however, as the game is completely beatable with just the plants and resources you are given during normal play. In fact, I’d say that for typical Plants vs. Zombies fans it would be less fun to buy any of the cheater IAP, as it really takes away any of the challenge.


The other form of IAP is for buying coins that are used to purchase in-game power-ups or keys which will give you access to the different worlds in the game. Again, though, you earn more than enough coins and keys to just naturally buy what you need and unlock the rest of the game during normal play, almost as if the IAP didn’t even exist at all.

And that’s the thing. The tip for getting the most game for the least amount of money is to simply not buy any of the IAP at all. Hot tip, right?

Well, it’s not that simple. Plants vs. Zombies appeals to an incredibly wide audience, from hardcore gamers to casual, so there’s bound to be times during the game where you’re up against a tough challenge and feel tempted to buy your way past it. One of our forum members, Appletini, has been extremely active in helping other players in our forums with questions or just outright explaining the ins and outs of the game to those skeptical of the IAP.

Is IAP Necessary to Beat the Game?

Developers like Nimblebit, who make free-to-play games with unobtrusive IAP, have learned that designing the game and beta testing it with players without IAP involved whatsoever has been the most effective way to make a game that is fully playable without ever having to purchase anything extra. Once the game has been tuned through a beta test period, then you can add some options for IAP in order for people to fast-track their way through if they want but the rest of the game remains open to anyone who wants to experience it in its entirety.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 is very similar in that it’s clearly been designed without taking into account the premium IAP plants or with having to purchase coins or keys just to progress through the game. In our forums, Appletini does a great job explaining exactly how the game has been tuned, based on her experience playing through the game:

  • “Each of the levels has been specifically designed so that you can complete it using only the fixed items/plants (if any) given to you in those levels, in addition to any plants you’ve gained access during the course of normal play; no level requires you to buy anything in order to pass it, IAP or otherwise."


Who Needs IAP Anyway?

In that same post, Appletini goes on to explain who the IAP is geared towards and which types of gamers are likely to buy (or not buy) anything in the game. Paraphrasing that information a bit, here’s how it breaks down:

  • PvZ Veterans – You will not need the IAP, nor are you likely to need to use the powerups either (to be clear, the IAP currency is also earned in-game, and is only used to buy the one-shot power-ups; not plants, upgrades, items, or levels). These players may choose to buy the optional IAP plants/upgrades if they want them.
  • Average PvZ Players – You will also not need the IAP, although you might need to use a power-up now and again (although not nearly enough to warrant buying coins). You may also choose the optional IAP items simply because you want them.
  • Struggling PvZ Players – Those who choose to repeatedly brute-force levels using power-ups instead of skilled play might look to the IAP if they’re spending money faster than they’re making it in-game, but that’s entirely their choice, and PvZ 2 definitely isn’t designed or balanced around that concept/playstyle largely because it defeats the whole purpose of the game. Once again, these player may choose the optional IAP plants/upgrades, but those won’t substitute for player skill.

Taking the “Grind" Out of the Grind

screen1024x1024Another big fear with a free-to-play game is a forced grind, where the game basically makes you earn a certain amount of the in-game currency in order to progress, and you’ll have to get it either buy ponying up some dough for IAP or replaying levels you’ve already beaten to “grind" out enough to continue on. Replaying the same levels over and over can get pretty dull, but Plants vs. Zombies 2 does something very clever to encourage replaying previous levels. Once again, Appletini is here to explain:

  • Once you’ve completed the main path through a world, each of those core levels opens into a three-star system, with each star requiring you meet a different fixed challenge. Each level usually has a specific theme or concept attached to it that each of the challenges plays off, e.g. many of a specific type of enemy, or training you to use a certain plant more effectively. There are a lot of different levels, and you’re not restricted to a specific route or order once you’ve cleared the main path, so you’re free to move to another challenge if the one you’re attempting is repeatedly kicking you in the Dandenongs.
  • For example, you might technically play one level three times to get all three of its stars, but the first time around you are limited to spending a certain amount of sun, the next time you can’t plant in certain spots on the playfield, and the last time you can’t let zombies cross over a column of flowers or lose more than three plants. In all three cases the required goals, zombie waves and playfield objects/obstacles will be different, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just playing the exact same level over and over.
  • There are also many minor paths that lead off from the central one that have even stronger themed challenges and provide new plants and upgrades. These paths require keys to unlock, which drop randomly from zombies through normal play. Some of the levels are also new “minigames", and there are also a number of more puzzlish levels that give you a set roster of plants to use, or provide a set amount of sun and basically require you to set up your entire defense based on the upcoming zombies you can see in the holding area before the round even starts.
  • The consumable IAP coins are also earned in-game, and are only used for single-shot last-ditch-escape powerups in the stages, not plants, upgrades or level unlocks, so anybody telling you that you need to “grind" for that currency is talking nonsense. Unless you’re embarrassing yourself by trying to brute-force your way through the levels via powerups alone, you won’t run out of cash, because that’s all you can spend it on.

Coins and Keys Explained

The two big “currencies" in the game, for lack of a better term, are keys and coins. Keys allow you to unlock alternate paths and levels in each map, and are dropped randomly during the normal course of play. Since it’s random I’ve heard people complaining that they didn’t get enough keys the first time through a set of levels and had to replay some levels until they eventually got enough, and I’ve heard even more people say they had way too many keys and easily unlocked every alternate path along the way. Because the key drops are random your experience with how many you receive naturally will vary, but the important thing is that it will never be required that you buy keys in the game.

That leaves coins, the currency that drops while playing a level or bought in packs of IAP, which can be used for a couple of different things.

  • Plant Food – This gives the plant of your choosing a quick burst of extreme power. You’ll initially start with 3 slots for Plant Food, meaning you can hold a maximum of 3 during a level, but as you play you’ll unlock a 4th slot with a 5th slot available solely as an IAP, if you really need it. Chances are though that the 5 slots you’ll end up with through normal play will be more than enough. The Plant Food is dropped by the glowing green zombies, or you can pay 1000 coins to fill one slot up. Again, this is never required to do, and more than anything is like a last-ditch type of thing if you’re struggling during a level.
  • Power Ups – There are 3 kinds of power-ups in the game. One allows you to “pinch" the heads off zombies with your fingers, instantly killing them. Then there’s a power-up that lets you lift zombies right up off the map and fling them away using your finger, again instantly disposing of them. Finally, there’s a lightning power-up which lets you tap and hold on a zombie to start a chain reaction of deadly lightning which you can then drag and connect to even more approaching enemies. All 3 power-ups are very cool, and very fun to use but they’re also extremely overpowered. Again, using them is almost like “cheating" in a way, and is never required. Each of the 3 power-ups costs a set amount of coins to use should you decide to.

Items Only Available as IAP

While the coins and keys are the consumables in the game, and for the most part are doled out sufficently during the normal course of play and are never required to progress, there are a selection of items in Plants vs. Zombies 2 which are only available with real money through the in-game store. This includes 6 plant types and a handful of different kinds of upgrades that give you an upper hand should you need it.

You can see the 6 plants that are available only as IAP in the following screen, along with their current prices:


Substituting for Your Favorite Plants

If you’re miffed that your favorite plant from the original Plants vs. Zombies is locked up as an IAP-only plant, Appletini has some great tips on replicating those same behaviors using the freely available types of plants that you’ll come across in the game:

  • Torchwood – Torchwood does nothing but double the damage done by the peas that pass over him, so you can cover his role with any other damage-dealing plant, most notably the new Pea Pod, who can be repeatedly re-planted to stack up to five times in one space.
  • Snowpea – Snowpea’s slowing ability is covered by the Iceberg Lettuce and Winter Melon (which is like an AoE Snowpea), the Chili Bean, and powered-up Wall-nuts and Tall-nuts. Using plant food on an Iceberg Lettuce or Winter Melon also completely freezes every zombie on the screen in place for a short time.

The other IAP-only items, as mentioned, are special upgrades which give you a leg up in certain areas of the game. This is the part of the in-game store which I feel is incredibly unnecessary to buy, as the prices feel pretty out of whack for what you actually get. You can see all the current purchasable upgrades in the following screen:


Just to break it down further, again thanks to help from Appletini, the Shovel Bonus gives you a bit of extra Sun back when you shovel a plant out of your grid, but you’re already getting 50% of it back anyway, so this just barely gives you much more for something that you’re probably not doing a whole lot during the game. At least I hardly ever remove plants. The Plant Food bonus gives you an extra slot for Plant Food, but as mentioned above you’ll unlock more than enough of those just by playing, so this extra one seems really unnecessary. The Sun Bonus starts you off with 25 Sun in your bank right off the bat, but that’s literally just one extra orb of Sun and really, really seems not that helpful. Finally the Bonus Seed Slot gives you one additional slot for a plant to choose prior to starting a level, for a total of 8, and I really doubt that anyone will gain a whole lot from that one extra plant type. I struggle just to use 5 or 6 different types myself.


It may have seemed like an impossible dream, but I think that PopCap and EA have really nailed the free-to-play model with Plants vs. Zombies 2. It’s been proven that the entire game is beatable just using what the game naturally gives you and some skill, and if you have your heart set on a specific plant that’s IAP-only you could do a lot worse than float a few bucks PopCap’s way by buying a premium plant just for fun. But, you’re not obligated to at all. Coins and keys are earned in abundance, and you’ll only really need to buy IAP packs of coins if you’re hammering away at your Plant Food or Power Ups trying to brut force your way through a level. If you are struggling at times, try some different strategies or hit up our forums for some advice on how to get past the hump before you go willy nilly with the in-app purchases. Finally, the “Upgrades" available as IAP seem just egregiously unnecessary, and I can’t think of any reason to buy any of them.

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