Forget 'Monsters vs. Aliens' play 'Plants vs. Zombies'

After clicking though the disappointing Bejeweled Twist late last year, many players were concerned PopCap Games, one of the world's top "casual game" companies, had lost its mojo.

This is not the case, fortunately, as you'll see in PopCap's latest game — an innovative, quirky and dangerously addictive puzzler called Plants vs. Zombies.

This Windows and Mac download might not have the mainstream appeal of past PopCap hits, such as Peggle, Insaniquarium, Chuzzle or Bookworm, but it's hands-down one of their finest.

The silly premise of the game involves a relentless hoard of zombies trying to cross your lawn and make its way into your house. Why? To eat your brains, of course. To stop them, you must plant flowers, mushrooms, bushes and other foliage that can take down these zombies in humorous ways. For instance, Venus' flytrap can eat them, mean squash can stomp them and exploding fruit can blow them up.

This might sound like a simple and straightforward concept but you must select from a number of plants to use and wait until you can buy more plants using collected falling sunrays. Then you need to decide where to plant them along the various paths 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.

Consider this game a new twist on the classic Tower Defense strategy games that has you protect a medieval castle from waves of enemies — but now they're the undead, and carrying flags with a picture of brains on it to announce their intentions.

Adding additional layers of difficulty are the two dozen different kinds of zombies, including ones that can jump over your bomb plants and others that wear pylons as helmets to resist damage or hold screen doors like a shield.

As the game progresses, you will buy special weapons from a crazy neighbor, deal with obstacles such as a creeping fog that obscures your view and unlock many goodies.

Along with the 50 main levels in the adventure mode, Plants vs. Zombies also includes secondary modes and 20 different minigames that fold in slot machines, lawn bowling and more. 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. You'll even witness a hilarious Thriller moment with a Michael Jackson-like zombie, accompanied by backup dancers who ascend from the grave. The catchy music is also top-notch, with more than a dozen original pieces that change based on what's happening onscreen. Visit YouTube.com and type in Plants vs. Zombies for a look at the popular game-related music video.

Plants vs. Zombies gets two green thumbs up for its irresistibly charming, challenging, and most of all, fun game play.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gannett.com.

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