After clicking though the disappointing Bejeweled Twist late last year, we were concerned PopCap Games, one of our favorite casual game companies, had lost its mojo. Thankfully, we were dead wrong.

From the folks who brought us Peggle, Insaniquarium, Chuzzle and Bookworm Adventures comes – get this – a game about plants. Tough plants. Plants so tough they can stop hoards of nasty zombies from terrorizing the neighborhood. Plants vs. Zombies is a quirky Tower Defense-style game of wits that
might look like a cakewalk, but proves to be as challenging as it is fun.

The premise of the game is as follows: A relentless gang of the undead are trying to cross your lawn and make their way into your house. Why? To eat your brains, of course. In order for you to stop them, you must plant a number of flowers, bushes, trees and other foliage that can take down these zombies in a number of humorous ways: decapitating them, blowing them into black powder (think Daffy Duck) or running over them with a lawnmower.

It might sound like a simple and straightforward concept, but you must select from a number of plants to use (each with a different way to take down the enemies) and wait until you can buy more using collected resources (such as sunrays). Then you need to decide where to plant them along the paths (closer to the road or closer to home?) and which paths should you cover first so you’re not surprised by a flesh-eating visitor at your door. This is all easier said than done, as there are many encroaching zombies who will eat your plants given the chance, rendering them useless.

Plus, there are two dozen different kinds of zombies, including ones that can jump over your bomb plants or man-eating Venus Flytraps, and others that wear mining helmets to resist damage or hold screen doors like a shield.

As the game progresses, players will meet zany neighbors, choose which weapons they want to use before the level starts (in a kind of loadout screen), purchase special weapons from Crazy Dave and deal with obstacles such as creeping fog that obscures your view.

Along with the 50 main levels in the Adventure game, Plants vs. Zombies also includes unlockable secondary modes (we don’t want to ruin them for you by dishing out details) and 20 mini-games (ranging from a slot machine theme to lawn bowling-themed tower defense gameplay). Suffice it to say there is plenty of replayability here.

The colorful zombies and plants are smoothly animated, while the cartoon effects, such as when they bite the bullet, are quite amusing. The catchy music is also top-notch, with more than a dozen original pieces that change based on what’s happening onscreen.

We couldn’t find anything glaringly wrong with Plants vs. Zombies, but it’s not for everyone – for a few reasons. About halfway through the second part of the Adventure game (around level 2-5 or so) it can get quite hard. This might turn off some casual gamers who want a more relaxing experience rather than a progressively tough one, but once you figure out what works for you it’s not so tough.

Secondly, while unique, I’d argue the game concept doesn’t have as widespread appeal as a mainstream puzzle game, such as Peggle or Zuma. Still, we give top marks to PopCap for putting an entertaining new zombie spin on the tower defense genre. Finally, some parents might not like the spooky premise with silly but grotesque animations, such as heads that fall off bodies. It’s tame by Resident Evil standards but certainly not common in the casual game world.

All in all, we give two green thumbs up to PopCap’s irresistibly charming and challenging game. 

For similar games, try Plant This!, Monster Mash and Garden Defense.