Plants VS Aliens offers a passable Plants vs. Zombies gaming experience for Facebook, but doesn’t quite match up.

Whatever happened to the days when developers who wished to rip off popular games would at least make some attempt to mask or redesign their “inspirations?” No, that’s not Mario, we’d hear; that’s Swordless Ninja. That’s not Scrabble, we’d hear; that’s Words With Friends. In Plants VS Aliens, the influence of both Plants vs. Zombies and Farmville is at times painfully obvious, but, surprisingly, this brazen clone provides an enjoyable combination of memorable aspects of both games.

It’s worth noting that not even the “alien” theme is original. Back when Plants vs. Zombies was in development, aliens were one of the main candidates for antagonists before they were scrapped for the ever-loveable zombies. The reason was disclosed in an interview with PopCap CEO David Roberts on Kotaku last April: zombies, quite simply, are too stupid to easily defeat plants, whereas an alien civilization would effortlessly nuke a field of flowers. Obviously the developers of Plants VS Aliens are not bothered by such cumbersome flights of reality.

Still, by incorporating many elements of Farmville, Plants VS Aliens must be congratulated for providing a twist on its inspiration’s “plants” aspect. The game opens up overlooking a peaceful plot of farmland where you begin cultivating plants. At first this seems like an excellent idea, and the icons can initially mislead you into believing that you’re planting the very plants that you’ll use against the aliens.

Alas, this isn’t the case. Harvesting the plants instead yields gold, which, along with tokens that can either be bought or obtained from friends, can be used to buy up to 22 different plants for your battle against the extraterrestrial floraphobes. This is crucial since, unlike Plants vs. Zombies, Plants VS. Aliens limits how many plants of a given kind you can have on the battlefield at any time according to how many you’ve bought.

If you’re in the mood to throw around some cash, though, most upgrades can be bought at the game’s store. Otherwise you’ll have to wait several hours to advance past certain levels while you harvest enough gold for new plants, particularly in later stages. Social interactivity is encouraged throughout, although too much emphasis is given to having multiple friends play. For instance, periodically an enemy spacecraft will appear above your farm (apparently causing no harm other than being sort of annoying), and it can be chased away only if five friends come to your aid for considerable rewards. You can also visit your friends’ farms for bonuses and even call their own plants into battle.

Clicking on the world map tosses you into combat, and if you’ve ever played Plants vs. Zombies, you’re all set to play Plants VS Aliens’ combat mode. At the most basic level, there’s nothing different here. The aliens, appearing as either robots or probes, get progressively larger and more difficult as the game advances. The sunflowers here are known as “sunnies” and produce sunlight just like their zombie-ridden cousins; the Kernel-pults might as well be the PopCap models save for leafy Mohawks; and the Wall-Nut is represented here as a flaming jack-o’-lantern. (Don’t ask me.) Strategy, as in Plants vs. Zombies, is based on placing your offensive and defensive plants in the best spots to confront the onslaught of aliens.

Nevertheless, there are a few peripheral attempts at originality, including a world map with seven different regions to progress through, each with different backgrounds and brief story snippets. Most importantly, Plants VS Aliens lets you choose which buff you want for each fight (such as increased sunlight, decreased enemy damage, and stronger attacks). These buffs grow more powerful after each successful battle, and are inexplicably housed on the battlefield in Neolithic structures that would look far more at home in Warcraft III than on sunny Midwestern farms. Best of all, it’s possible to redo every mission after completing it, which removes some of the need to farm for gold.

Ultimately, it’s hard to be too irritated with Plants VS Aliens for so blatantly lifting its concept, since it’s clear that much effort has gone into making the game accessible and playable. While the game is rife with appalling English usage (“Yor are wonderful!”) that occasionally causes some mild confusion, bugs are generally nowhere to be found and the endearing art design is perfect for their hybrid theme. Furthermore, while Plants VS Aliens could greatly benefit from better tutorials and mouseover text detailing your abilities (particularly in the farming mode), players familiar with both Farmville and Plants vs. Zombies will likely be able to jump right in.

If you need to have your Plants vs. Zombies fix and can’t wait for PopCap to bring Plants vs. Zombies to Facebook, Plants VS Aliens is a passable alternative for now. Better yet, if this combination of farming of tower defense games intrigues you, reward originality and check out The Casual Collective’s Backyard Monsters instead. It’s highly entertaining, it’s slick and polished, and best of all, it’s 100% original.