Remember those “Whack-a-Mole” games you played at a carnival as a kid? You know, a head pops up so you must quickly whack it with a mallet; the object of the game is to hit as many as you can within a limited amount of time.

Well, Hammer Heads, the latest offering from Nuclide and PopCap Games, can best be described as an electronic version of this age-old amusement park pastime.

And instead of moles, it’s ceramic garden gnomes. No kidding.

This quirky new action game is fun for a while, especially for those with ultra-fast hand-eye coordination, but be forewarned its twitchy game-play won’t appeal to as many players as the more puzzle-oriented PopCap games, such as Bejeweled and Zuma.

In the main Classic mode, Hammer Heads begins with just a few Stumpy gnomes who pop out of the ground, and you must use your mouse to whack these white-bearded fellas on the noggin with your virtual mallet. Missing the gnome will cost you a Heart (lose five and it’s game over), not to mention ignoring the gnome altogether means he’ll pop back down unharmed, which will also cost you in accuracy points.

After each level players can see how many gnomes they’ve smashed, their accuracy percentage, the longest chain (without making a mistake) and if they received any speed bonuses for lightning-fast reflexes. While the game-play remains the same, the layout of the half-dozen or so gnome holes will vary from level to level, not to mention the environment they’re in, such as a park with green grass, a city street, dry desert or beach.

As the levels get progressively harder, players will be presented with special gnomes, such as Wacky women gnomes with yellow braids and big, er, hats, who must be whacked twice in order for them to descend into the earth. Flippy gnomes, on the other hand, must take off their helmets so you can whack them twice. Some gnomes leave bonuses such as coins, cupids, strawberries and hearts, while treasure chests reveal goodies inside, such as a handful of coins, that can be used in the Shiny Store to buy upgrades after level 6, such as a better hammer.

Gamers can also win up to 20 different awards to view in the coveted Trophy room, and also unlock the Marathon game mode, which challenges players to see how many gnomes they can whack consecutively without losing all the hearts.

One of the problems with Hammer Heads, however, is that players can only save their game at the end of every five levels (after acquiring a camera to take a snapshot of their progress). So, if you run out of lives, say, while playing level 5, you’re kicked all the way back to level 1. Some novice gamers may grow frustrated with this and uninstall the game before the free 60-minute trial has expired.

And while it’s not a fault of the game per se, Hammer Heads‘ emphasis on fast action instead of head-scratching puzzles means it simply won’t have as mass appeal as other PopCap puzzle games. Anecdotally, my friends weren’t as keen on Hammer Heads compared to other casual games (“It’s no Bejeweled or Text Twist,” was one comment), but then again my 4-year-old son, Jacob, loved smashing the hapless gnomes.

At the very least, be sure to give the free trial version of this arcade game a good whack before deciding if it’s for you.