Bootleg Chinese Arcades Sure Can Make Popular Video Games Boring

The original Plants versus Zombies is a classic in China. Even before the Chinese version came out, the game was a success. My girlfriend, who is Chinese, had a PvZ phase. During that time, she would playPvZ everywhere she went — be it on my smartphone, tablet or on the PC at home.

One time a while back, we were in Guangzhou, and we took my cousins to an arcade in a shopping centre. The first game my girlfriend noticed aside from Taiko Taiko Drum Master was the Chinese PvZ knock-off game called "植物の傻P"(Plants the Idiot P). Drawn to the machine with its glowing panels and flashing lights, she asked for some tokens. After inserting three tokens, she turned to me with a saddened look and said, "This game sucks."

It's been almost six months since that happened, and now here I am, writing to tell you, dear Kotaku readers, that the bootleg PvZ arcade game does indeed suck.

Gameplay and game design wise, the game feels vastly different from PvZ. Gone are the pots, the seed packets and the lanes; instead, you are given a garlic plant stationed at the bottom of the screen. The goal of the actual game by Popcap (now owned by EA) was to prevent Zombies from reaching your house by destroying them with anthropomorphic plant weapons. In the Chinese arcade game, there doesn't seem to be a goal except to kill all zombies. Oh, and maybe earn some coins.

The first thing to the game is to pick a seat. Each cabinet seats four players, each with their own control console. The control console is made up of one joystick, two buttons, a big metal bin kind of thing and (this being China) an ashtray. Each cabinet is aligned with an onscreen "garlic plant". This garlic plant is basically the player's character in game.

By placing a coin into the coin slot, the player gains eight in-game coins to use. Each token costs roughly about 0.5RMB (7 cents). For the purposes of our Kotaku impressions, I spent 30 tokens on the game. After gaining the in-game coins, the player is can either upgrade their plant to a more powerful shooter, or just shoot aimlessly at the zombies that walk across the screen.

Each on screen zombie is worth a different number of coins: the midgets are worth five, and the walking soccer "girls" are worth about 10. These coins can add up to the in-game coins you gain via game tokens, thus extending your play time. After about 10 tokens in, I realised that the game is really a multiplayer experience because it's nigh impossible to kill some of the bigger zombies with only one shooter. Unfortunately during my play tests of frustration and boredom, only one 6 year-old boy dropped by to play with me. Every other time, I was alone.

Some of the bigger zombies will immediately look familiar, as they are in a similar style to the real Plants vs. Zombies. The plants also look familiar, in fact they're almost the exact same sprites found in PvZ, except I don't recall the garlic plant being a shooting plant.

In the long run, the PvZ arcade cabinet is a novelty riding along the coattails of the real deal. Its game play and objectives make it perhaps one of the most mundane games out there. It's boring, it's pointless, and it made me feel ashamed that I was playing a game that little children didn't find interesting. Most of all it made me sad to realise I spent 15 RMB ($2.30) on this game instead of spending my tokens on something more substantial like Taiko Taiko Drum Master. I do not recommend this game. If you see it in an arcade in China, do not waste your money just watch others play.


    There is one of these at Knox City's Timezone in Melbourne Australia, and it is indeed officially branded. Did they end up getting the rights?

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