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PopCap games may be best known for developing so-called casual games like Peggle and Bejeweled but its latest release is anything but. Sure, Plants vs Zombies is easy to pick up and sports an absurdly adorable premise and visuals, but it also features a level of depth and strategy that causes hours to simply melt away.
The premise of the game is simple, albeit a tad strange. On one end of the lawn there are zombies, and on the other, your house. In order to prevent said zombies from eating your brains, you are given a number of different plants that can be used to defend against the undead onslaught. It's almost like a tower defense game, as the plants fire at enemies automatically, but it's also somewhat simplified: the zombies are confined to one lane and you only have to defend enemies moving from right to left.
But, of course, there's much more to it than that. Different plants have different abilities: Pea-Shooters fire shots at incoming enemies, Cherry Bombs blow up large groups, while Wall-Nuts help keep your more fragile plants safe. And then there are the Sunflowers. Unlike most tower defense games where points are earned from defeating enemies, and can then be used to purchase new units or upgrade existing ones, Plants vs Zombies relies soley on sunlight as its form of currency. During the day it falls from the sky, but it can also be produced by smiling Sunflowers as well, making then an always important part of your arsenal.
And then there are the zombies themselves, which come in many different varieties, each providing their own unique challenge. Some have buckets on their heads, while others can pole vault over plants. Some bare more than a passing resemblance to Michael Jackson and can summon zombified backup dancers. Hell, some even drive Zambonis. The point is, there are a lot, and successfully employing a strategy to defeat them is no easy task. It may start out simply enough, but eventually the difficulty ramps up quite nicely.
The gameplay is certainly fun, and at times almost too addictive, but part of the appeal of Plants vs Zombies is in its wonderful presentation. Watching adorable dancing plants laying waste to goofy zombies is great, and the attention to detail gives the game an undeniable personality. Everything from the human characteristics given to each plant, to the gamer in-jokes littered throughout the game is undeniably charming. And if you're anything like me, the various songs from the game will stick with you for some time to come. I'm still trying to get the credit theme out of my head.
Playing through the main game the first time shouldn't take too long, but there is a harder version to play through after that, as well as an incredible number of fun, clever mini-games. PopCap has packed quite a lot into this little game. You get everything from a Survivor Mode to a puzzle game where you play as the zombies. There are even undead versions of Bejeweled and Bejeweled Twist --cleverly called BeGhouled --to keep you busy for quite some time.
If you're looking for a game to play in quick 15-20 minute chunks, well, you better stop right now before Plants vs Zombies gets you in its cold, dead grasp, and has you wondering just where in the hell the last few hours went. It's clever, adorable, and has enough content to keep you playing for a long time. Plus, you can kill zombies with watermelons, and what other game can say that.
Platform(s):PC (reviewed), Mac
ESRB:E for Everyone