Evilot takes Plants vs. Zombies to Triple Town

This is Portabliss, a column about downloadable games that can be played on the go.

Portabliss Evilot

Plants vs. Zombies has long been one of the most popular titles on the App Store (or any platform it's been released on, really), but PopCap has only recently revealed a sequel set to arrive in another month or so. In all that time, then, it's not surprising that game developers have "borrowed" PopCap's casual tower defense formula, where you build up units in lanes to defend against an oncoming horde. Samurai Bloodshow is one of the best pretenders to the throne, and there are other games like Legendary Wars that took PopCap's premise and ran far with it.

Evilot also belongs in the second category. It's a recently released iPad game that has a very clear resemblance to the longtime battle of flowers against the undead, in that enemy troops come in by lanes from the right, and you need to build up units to defend treasure on the left. But while Plants vs. Zombies uses a straightforward currency system to build up its units, Evilot borrows a core mechanic from another great iOS title: Triple Town.

The key difference between Evilot and PvZ is that instead of merely placing your units on lanes as you like, you can place three of the same unit in a row to get yourself a single, more powerful version of that unit. Just like the great puzzle game Triple Town, this leads to a lot of brain-work ahead of time, because you're not just placing the current unit. You're also trying to line it up to put the next level of unit where you want it to go.

The first unit you get is a rat, for instance, and when you begin a level, the lowest powered rat is enough to serve as defense on his own. Killing enemies gets you cards that allow you to put more units down, so you kill a few enemies and get a few more rats to place. But you have a decision to make early on. Do you line your minions up in a vertical column, thus creating a level 2 rat on the top lane? Or do you put them straight across, creating a more powerful beast in a single lane?

Those second level rats can also be matched in a row of three, so you'll need to leave room to build each of those out, and plan ahead of time where they need to go. And if you get enough rats, you can line up your level three defenders, and match those up as well ... and so on.

Figuring out the right placement does make things a bit harder than Plants vs. Zombies, as lining up your defenders too far back in the lanes might not leave you enough room to build more. And it's entirely possible to mistakenly build something: You may accidentally lay down a unit, only to have it match up and clear two other very needed defenders, losing you the battle immediately.

Evilot, unfortunately, doesn't have the polish that PopCap's game does. The music is well-done, and the graphics are very clear (the way each unit gets injured is interesting: level 2 rats have to wear an eyepatch when they're almost out of health, though a life meter would probably have been more straightforward), but there isn't much graphical flash at all.

It's hard to tell, for example, when you've got a certain unit selected and ready to drop. Its background does go green, but that's not nearly as easy to see at a glance as a glowing border or some sort of particle effect would be, and when you're furiously trying to put down units in exactly the right places at exactly the right times, that split second of confusion doesn't help.

Evilot can't compete with the legendary quality of Plants vs. Zombies, and that's not surprising – it's a first-time title from Chilean developer Syrenaica, and doesn't have the benefit of a few different platform iterations. But its unit-building puzzle mechanic is a smart addition to the genre, and will reward players looking for a bit more challenge with some strategy to consider. Evilot's currently free, and at that price, there's no reason not to load this up on your iPad – at least until Plants vs. Zombies 2 is ready to go.

This review is based on an iPad download Evilot, provided by Syrenaica.