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The Cream of the Crop
Half of the battle in Plants versus Zombies is choosing the right load-out of plants to defend your brains from the encroaching zombie threat. Choose poorly and the zombies may get through - choose wisely and they won't stand a chance.
The ten plants listed here are among the best in the game, and should be considered every time a load-out is put together for a level. Note that this guide does not include the special plants which are purchased later in the game. The reason for this is simply that those plants are all quite good, so any list of plants would include most of them if they were taken into consideration.
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The humble Potato Mine explodes as soon as a zombie steps on it. The Potato Mine has no AOE and requires a period of time after placement before it becomes active, and its low cost of 25 energy reflects that. However, the Potato Mine is a great delaying plant. When the first few zombies are incoming, don't waste energy placing Peashooters. Put down Potato Mines instead, getting rid of the early zombies while freeing up far more energy for planting additional Sunflowers.
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The repeater is simply a Peashooter which costs twice as much and shoots two peas at a time instead of one. However, the Repeater is very efficient in terms of the third resource in Plants Versus Zombies - space. The Repeater allows the player to pack a lot of firepower into a lane without using up a great deal of tiles. If a Peashooter is needed, always ask if a Repeater wouldn't be a better idea. On tough levels the extra space for placing Sunflowers or defensive plants is important.
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Gotta love the Hypno-shroom. This crazy-eye shroom readily takes one for the team, getting munched on by zombies and in turn sending that zombie to munch on his friends. Strategically placed Hypno-shrooms are every bit as effective as a Cherry Bomb and cost a lot less.
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While Hypno-shroom converts, the Doom-shroom annihilates. Completely annihilates. The Doom-shroom is worthwhile for moments where a huge hoard of zombies is approaching and a critical defense is not yet in place. The Doom-shroom's AOE is huge and it burns any zombies caught inside to a crisp. The only downside is that the crater left behind can't be built on for a long time, so be careful when using it close to home.
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Like the Potato Mine, the Tangle Kelp seems unimpressive but fills a critical defensive role at low cost. The Tangle Kelp in fact operates almost exactly like a Potato Mine, but it requires no lead time before it becomes active. Any zombie in the water which comes in contact with the Tangle Kelp is going down. Considering its cost of 25 energy, and that it even takes down zombies that normally hide from Peashooters, the Tangle Kelp is a great aquatic defense that should be used as much as possible, given its slow recharge time.
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The fiery Torchwood is the definition of a force multiplier. It turns any pea shot past it into a fireball which deals double the normal amount of damage. A Torchwood placed in front of two Repeaters does an insane amount of damage and can lock down a lane against any zombie except perhaps a Zomboni or Gargantuar. Note that Torchwoods are only great when used in front of multiple expensive Repeaters. A Torchwood placed in front of a single Peashooter is a waste, as a Repeater would do the same job and cost less. Remember not to combine Torchwooods with freezing plants, like Snow Peas or Winter Melons: the hot and cold don't result in the sweet shattering of frozen Zombies brought on by a rapid change in temperature; they just cancel eachother out.
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The Wall-nut is a critical defense plant, but it can be leaped over in numerous ways. The Tall-nut fixes that problem. It costs significantly more, but it is often no more expensive in practice because there is no need to build plants to defend against units that will leap over it. The Tall-nut is still vulnerable to enemies like the Ladder Zombie, but it is still key to most effective strategies.
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When it comes to lobbing, the Kernal-pult knows what to do. The individual kernels lobbed by the Kernal-pult don't do a lot of damage. The main reason to keep the Kernal-pult around is for the butter, which is randomly lobbed and which immobilizes zombies on contact for a significant period of time. It is the butter lobbing which is the real attraction, and for only 100 energy it is a great plant for slowing down the zombie advance.
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Think the Tall-nut is good? Garlic is even better. When a zombie comes in contact with a Garlic plant he will try to eat it, as normal. But this is Garlic, after all, and the raw zing of the Garlic plant forces the Zombie into another lane. This allows the player to decide exactly where the zombies are going to approach and focus firepower in those lanes. This is a huge advantage that makes winning much easier on any map. The only problem is that Pole-Vault Zombies and other enemies that can leap or fly over plants will be able to get around the Garlic plant.
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Ah, the Melon-pult. Its the last normal plant that is won in Plants Versus Zombies, and its a good one. The Melon Pult does heavy damage to a zombie that it hits and then does additional AOE damage to zombies one lane in any direction from the zombie that was hit. This is a big deal because after the first round of Adventure Mode is completed, the zombies really start to arrive in large numbers. The Melon-pult is the best way to thin out an advancing zombie hoard whether you are firing up the roof slope or across flat ground.