As one of the Web’s leading casual game destinations, Pogo.com knows a thing or two about ultra-addictive online outings.

But don’t take our word for it. Play The Poppit! Show, a TV-themed, balloon-busting puzzler based on the top-ranked brainteaser, which more than a million fans have clocked over 7 billion (!) minutes of time into this past year alone.

Updating and expanding the amusement with a sweet range of all-new backgrounds and power-ups, it’s one of the most exciting interactive outings to cross our monitors in months.

Lights, camera – reaction!

That’s a quick way to sum this sucker up, what with the entire challenge being disguised as a series of primetime serials starring none other than loveable cartoon cactus Spike. (Who’s not afraid to don toupee and play talk show host or cop an explorer’s hat and laugh or smile along as you inspire applause by bursting your way through dozens of delightful stages.) A grand total of seven programs are yours to unlock, with featured selections like disco showcase Solid Spike and Pop Safari – each sporting their own toe-tapping theme and stunning backgrounds – adding oodles of charm.

To proceed through the dozens of individual scenarios from which each is composed, you’ll have to solve a series of similar puzzles. Essentially, a grid of colored balloons lurks on every level. Removing individual pieces is as easy as clicking two or more adjacent balloons of similar color. (All of which, naturally, disappear with a resounding pop.) Any gaps created as a result are filled in by lower-positioned balloons, which rise up to plug the holes, or by stacks of balloons which shift horizontally to eliminate empty spaces. Destroy more than eight balloons with a single tap, and a Super Pop indicator floats on-screen, offering congratulations for a job well done.

Mind you, making basic matches is tricky enough. But things get even harder when you realize certain balloons also contain objects such as presents and stars. In fact, the goal of the game is to pop enough balloons that there’s none left in each column to hold said presents – which, when freed from the grid, parachute down in the form of nifty prizes. (Think cruise ships, keyboards, jet-skis and more.)

Of course, it’s quite easily possible to accidentally work your way into a tight spot, with no matches available. That’s where those stars – a.k.a. handy power-ups, earned the same way as prizes – come in handy.

Each new television show you’ll access introduces a handful of catchy bonuses like tiki heads that drag columns down and pins that let you pop any balloon on the board. Play long enough and (as shown through catchy preview segments) you’ll even earn disco balls, magic wands and ray guns.

Amazingly deep for such a simple concept, this is the type of game that isn’t just infinitely playable. It’s also the kind that demands players plan multiple steps ahead, as any given single move can change one’s entire outlook drastically. Easy mode’s tricky – medium and hard will instantly have you over a barrel, even if you’re not busy chasing optional bonuses awarded for leaving six or fewer balloons on each completed stage.

But, oh, how much to the experience there still is, even after you’ve mastered the basics.

Never mind collectible badges earned by meeting set goals. Ignore goofy rankings like “Smiley” or “Pop Parrot” assigned based on overall performance. Forget options to login with a Pogo.com or AOL account and chat with thousands of fellow fans around the nation. What we’re really excited by are hidden outfits for one’s “Mini,” a smiling digital double you’ll pick a face for, then spend hours happily decking out in leisure suits and tuxes. Online high-score tables couldn’t be neater too.

Oh, and a donation feature that lets you send helpful power-ups another player’s way? It isn’t just occasionally offered as a means of increasing the number of feature-awarding tokens earned by beating each stage and snagging prizes. It’s also a fun way to get on people’s good side, and thereby make new friends.

Sure – classic mode, which you can unlock additional themes for by playing through the story-based campaign, seems more a token add-on than anything else. But given that the game looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, never gets old, and that you’re constantly able to compare ranks, looks, badges, point tallies and strategies with enthusiastic peers, what’s not to like?

We’ve got no time to hate on such a first-rate production. After all, there are always more buddies out there to dazzle, and another round of The Poppit! Show just waiting to be played. Prepare to go live in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…