Review: PopCap Hits! 2

March 28, 2011, Author: Phil Ubee

Not content with releasing four highly addictive and entertaining games on one disk for under £20, we now have a second instalment of PopCap Hits to deal with, all thanks to Mastertronic. Where the original PopCap hits relied on age-old classics the follow-up (cleverly titled PopCap Hits 2) includes a slightly more varied blend of puzzle and action, classic and new breed.

As ever though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating so has PopCap Hits 2 got enough to sink your teeth into? Read on to find out.

First up this time is classic puzzle game Zuma, originally released to Xbox Live in 2005 at 400MP. Zuma sees you firing different coloured marbles from a central position on the screen at a snake-like chain of marbles that moves around you towards a hole. The idea being that you clear all the balls before they drop down the hole.

In order to clear balls you have to make a sequence of three or more of the same colour by firing with the A button. When a group is cleared the balls in front drop back to reaffirm the chain and the trick is to get them to create another group of like-coloured marbles to gain multipliers. Along the way you will get additional bonuses that see the chain rewind, pause or cause you to blow a hole in the chain.

There are two game modes; Adventure is your standard level-by-level game that sees you progress through a multitude of temples one-by-one. There are twelve temples in total with the first three having five levels, the next three having six and the final six temples have seven levels each. The fifth level in every temple has two chains of marbles instead of one to add a touch of variety. The further you go the more complex the route. for example, the chain takes to moving under itself or behind the scenery. The first five temples are fairly easy to beat but from then on it gets very tricky indeed.

Spitting mad.

The second mode is Gauntlet which is your survival type. Each temple you have beaten in the Adventure mode is available and each has four tiers to beat. Again it starts off simple enough but by the time you get to Jaguar (third grade) you will be frantically spinning round trying desperately to clear the marbles.

Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank
Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank was released in 2007 for 800MP and sees you take control of a nuclear-armed tank tasked with saving the world from invasion by a group called Red Star. The game is almost like a side-scrolling military version of space invaders, in that you can move across the bottom of the screen while what seems like an endless wave of choppers and planes drop bombs from above. Occasionally you’ll get attacked from the ground as well, though thankfully it is only occasionally.

Movement is controlled with the left stick while fire is controlled with the right stick. This takes a little getting used to but ultimately works well as you simply move the right stick in the direction you want to fire. Each mission sees you progress from left to right with the far right being the end of the level where you will encounter a large boss battle. After they are disposed of, you enter an armoury where you can upgrade your weapons. Along the way, power ups are dropped from an allied chopper and the odd enemy will drop part of a mega weapon. If you collect four parts you can unleash this heavy duty laser that clears anything in its path. Enemies genuinely come thick and fast and there is a pretty big difficulty spike around the sixth mission, mainly due to the introduction of a plane that drops massive bombs that, if allowed to hit the deck, will kill you even if you’re the other end of the screen. Taking these bombs out isn’t easy either, as they appear to need as much fire to destroy as some of the mid-tier enemies.

There are additional single player game modes which firstly comes in the form of Survival, which takes out the bosses and just lets you continue until you die. Personally I feel this mode doesn’t really add much to the experience as getting to the end of the level and tackling the boss is a big part of the fun. On the flip-side, the other mode is Boss Battle, which takes out the mission and just has you face the bosses. Boss battle is unlocked upon completion of the standard mission based game.

Boss battles: The cornerstone of every good arcade game

Heavy Weapon is enjoyable but on top of the seemingly huge difficulty spike there are no checkpoints in level, so if you get right to the end and then lose your last life you’ll have to go back to the start. Not such a big deal early on as the missions are fairly short but later on it can take a good five minutes to progress from the start of the mission to the boss battle and thus, being forced to restart the level really does frustrate.

Feeding Frenzy 2
Feeding Frenzy 2 hit XBLA in 2008 at 800MP and is a direct sequel to the Feeding Frenzy featured on PopCap Hits 1. The look and feel of the game is almost identical to the original but there is considerably more flesh on these bones. The story mode is bigger and more challenging, though you can play story lite (which takes the issue of lives out of the equation) and there are also multiplayer options available (more on those a little later).

There are a massive sixty levels in total over initial six areas, which are played in a similar vein to Feeding Frenzy 1. It’s simple: You eat the fish smaller than you while avoiding those bigger. Points are gained by eating fish, collecting bonuses and stealing pearls. There is a touch more of a story this time with a mysterious creature patrolling the ocean that you are tasked with finding and stopping. Your first real encounter with this beast comes at the end of the first 45 levels and from there you have five more sets of levels, which end with a face off with this mysterious underwater threat.

In addition there are now some levels where you can leave the water and eat swarms of mosquitoes and butterflies. Beware, though, as an additional enemy also lurks on these levels in the form of a stork who swoops down to pick you off if you are too close to the surface. Other than the story mode there is also the return of time attack, which has you face the same levels but with a strict time limit.

Fly fishing

All-in-all Feeding Frenzy 2 is an enjoyable game and thanks to the added multiplayer and additional challenge it’s a welcome addition to the disk.

Plants Vs. Zombies
The final game on the disk is the most recent. Plants Vs Zombies was released just last year at 1200MP and was given the full TIMJ review treatment at the time. It is a Tower Defence game that sees you protecting your house from an onslaught of Zombies, with just a collection of weapon grade plants. As you progress, the wave of Zombies becomes more intense and the Zombies that attack become more advanced making protection an all together more challenging affair.

Plants are selected using the bumper buttons and placed with A. At the end of each level you will receive a new plant option to add to your collection. This ultimately leads to an extra twist on the strategy as you only have a limited number of slots for each level and need to pick the best plants for the job. As with the other games on offer, the adventure mode is just a part of the single player game with mini-games, survival and puzzle modes to unlock the further you get into adventure mode.

Double vision
As with PopCap Hits 1, the overall graphical feel is one of polish, although there is nothing sensational. Zuma is undoubtedly the one that looks a touch ropey in comparison to the others with a very basic, old school feel to it, though none of the four titles on offer will make you sit up in awe. Heavy Weapon will literally overload the screen with vehicles, bombs and explosions and in an Xbox Live game with three others on-screen adding to that, I can safely say I have not experienced any graphical glitches or slowdown.

Zombie wave bye bye

Plants vs Zombies has the best overall appearance with a very well structured menu system that opens a theme that is apparent throughout the game. The general graphical feel stays within what is probably PopCap’s comfort zone of cartoony colours and characters. Feeding Frenzy 2 like its predecessor; colourful and well animated, yet has a little more definition and style than the original.

Stereo sound
There is a very different musical score in each of the four titles on offer and each one really fits the title. I am not the most musically minded person in the world but for example, Heavy Weapon’s background music sounds very regimental with focal tones and sharper notes. Feeding Frenzy 2 on the other hand, is a far more mellow, serene style track that makes you feel like you are in the deeps of the ocean. This theme follows in Zuma which gives a kind of tribal soundtrack that adds to the ancient ruins styling of the game.

Plants Vs Zombies is possibly the exception as the overall background music is fairly relaxing and perhaps not what you’d associate with an endless wave of attacking zombies filling the screen. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a certain charm to it though and the sound effects are comfortably the most impressive and memorable of the four games on show here.

Multi multiplayer
PopCap Hits 2, unlike its predecessor, is full of multiplayer modes. In fact Zuma is the only title on the disk that does not feature multiplayer of some description. Feeding Frenzy offers the full story mode and the Story Mode Lite in Co-op and also features two additional game modes. Party Mode and Frenzy Fest allow you to partake in a collection of mini games against up to three opponents, the downside is that this is Local Multiplayer only.

Having said that there is a large amount of fun to be had here from the very basic “Munch-a-thon” that is simply a challenge of who eats the most fish to some clever little games like “Tailbite Tag” which, as the name suggests has you chasing each other trying to get a nibble of the others back-end while keeping away from the other players. In “Chomp and Chase”, which is my personal favourite, a single gold bubble floats around until someone grabs it, at this point you shrink meaning the other fish can all eat you and with it take control of the gold bubble. The winner is the first person to hold the gold bubble for a total of 45 seconds. Some frantic chasing around and a few sly digs to your friends (read: wife in my case) to put them off their game is all part of the fun. There are ten mini-games in total and in Frenzy Fest mode you set up a tournament featuring from one to all ten of these and play through them in sequence, with the winner determined by the placings throughout.

Heavy Weapon allows you to take on the Red Star with up to three friends over Xbox Live. The options here include War Party, which gives you endless lives to continue through the game, and Arms Race, which limits you to three lives. Although there is some limited fun to be had here, I have to be honest and say finding a game is as much of a challenge as the game itself and, as such, my experience with it has been relatively limited and slightly disappointing.

Plants Vs Zombies is again local multiplayer only and offers a few Co-op options, including the full adventure mode and an enjoyable, if a little frantic, Versus mode. In Versus, one of you takes the role of plants and the other player is the zombies. To even up the odds a little, the plant’s goal is to take out three zombie’s with targets. These zombies are not controllable and stand at the back of the lawn. Playing as zombies has a certain novelty factor but in all honesty I had a lot more fun with Feeding Frenzy 2 overall.

It’s a hit x 2
As with the first instalment, PopCap Hits 2 is unquestionably excellent value for money when it comes to pure hours of enjoyable gaming. Also, as with the last disk, some of you may have one or more of these titles already and if you do then the decision to purchase may be obsolete.

Individually I would not be able to recommend Zuma or Heavy Weapon, as despite undoubted charms, they just don’t capture the imagination. Also, individually Plants Vs Zombies is possibly a bit steep at 1200MP. However, if you don’t have any of these title in your XBLA collection then you really should go out and buy this, as collectively, it is an excellent package that ticks all the boxes for an arcade junkie.


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