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pvz 2

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LOS ANGELES — Get ready to clear your lawn. PopCap Games is formally announcing its Plants vs. Zombies 2 game today and showing off gameplay for a couple of the levels.

This title is PopCap’s big chance to show that Electronic Arts didn’t waste its money when it paid $750 million-plus for Seattle-based PopCap in 2011. PopCap has been quiet for a while, but its team has been working on Plants vs. Zombies 2 for almost four years. During that time, the original Plants vs. Zombies has become a hit on just about every game platform on Earth. For EA, the potential revenue from the sequel could be very important in a year when home consoles are in transition. For PopCap, the question is whether Plants vs. Zombies will become a giant flagship franchise akin to Bejeweled.

I played the sequel, a free-to-play game that PopCap is showing by invitation-only at the E3 game trade show in Los Angeles this week. It comes out July 18 exclusively on the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone. The gameplay additions give you more ways to thwart the onslaught of the zombies. Those changes make Plants vs. Zombies more interactive and give you more things to do in what would otherwise by slow moments.

The initial setting of the game is the same, where you defend your home against zombies who are hungry for “brainz.” They invade your lawn, and you place specialized plants in order to stop them. The original is a hoot, putting pressure on the player in a comic twist on the “tower defense” genre. This time, you’ll see the return of Crazy Dave, a neighbor with a pot on his head who buys a taco from you for $1,000. He eats the taco and likes it so much that he creates a time machine, named Penny, so that he can eat the same taco again.

Of course, Crazy Dave screws things up and transports the player to ancient Egypt. That explains the subtitle “It’s about time.” Now you have to defend your backyard throughout different time periods.

“That script took us four years to create,” said senior producer Allen Murray.

The touchscreen game now has a meta layer, or campaign map, that shows you where you can jump around in time to play different maps. You can use the touch interface to interact with the zombies directly this time. You can earn a “power pinch.” When you use it, you can use two fingers to pinch the head off of a zombie. You can also earn a “power toss,” where you can use a finger to “flick” a zombie off the screen. A “power zap” power-up electrocutes a zombie.

The first five levels of Egypt teach you how to play. Egypt alone has 11 levels, and another 10 levels are optional. There is also a pirate world, where the zombies try to cross from one ship to your ship. But there are gaps in the planks linking the two ships. The third world is in the Wild West. Each world will have roughly 22 or so levels to play. And PVZ2 will have a mode where you can face endless waves of zombies (just as the original has).

You can earn plant food that you can sprinkle on a plant and supercharge it for a short time, like turning a pea shooter into a triple pea shooter for a number of seconds. With such items, you don’t have to spend your coins on permanent upgrades for the plants.

The initial game will have dozens of levels, new plants, and new types of zombies. The title will be launched as a service. Each world has its own minigame. You’ll have new worlds, new levels, plants, and zombies available to download over time. It is a free download. Players can purchase in-game items with virtual coins using real money.

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