Coming from the whole Gamefan/TNL background that I do, there is something in my gamer blood that reacts adversely to "casual" games. Despite the evolution of the industry to embrace a wider (read: anyone not male and not under sixteen) audience, there are lingering doubts in my mind about titles that don't present a huge challenge or a sweeping story. Sure, video games were built on the backs of simple, one-screen classics like Space Invaders and Pac-Man, but remember that those quarter munchers were never designed to make most people feel good about themselves. The difficulty quickly ramped up to brutal levels, such that the person with the high score usually did have some legitmate bragging rights in the arcade. Home titles like The Legend of Zelda presented a different type of challenge, but they were also demanding enough to keep out the uninitiated.
Instead of packing pistols, rocket launchers, and a BFG, you get a bunch of flora to do your dirty work.
Today, most of our A-list "casual" titles still put up a wall that most players will never scale: your non-gamer friends and family can pick up and play the latest music game, but they will still be left in the dust by your skills when it comes down to it. With its latest title, Plants vs. Zombies, PopCap Games moves one step away from its previous release, Peggle Dual Shot, and back toward firmly casual territory.
Plants vs. Zombies is a strategy game with the large, colorful, family-friendly look PopCap is known for. In it, you defend your middle-class suburban home (and your brain) against the untiring march of zombie hordes. But instead of packing pistols, rocket launchers, and a BFG, you get a bunch of flora to do your dirty work. Each of the fifty stages in the main mode lasts about ten minutes or so. Before each stage, you select seven plants to use, from a list of options that eventually grows to forty-eight. Your choice will depend on the type of stage and the type of enemy. As the zombies march from left to right across the 6-x-9 checkerboard grid, they are either cut down by the deadly-yet-cuddly plants or they get close enough to start feasting.
Your job is to set the right plants in the right spaces at the right time, and to replace them as needed. It can be a little hectic, especially when you're waiting to earn enough resources (sunlight points) to get that corn-on-the-cob cannon or watermelon launcher you have your eye on, but it rarely gets too far out of hand. The problem I have with the game is how easy it is once you figure out a few basics. There is a sufficient variety of whimsical weaponry and entertaining enemies, but the difficulty level could use a boost. There are a ton of mini games, survival stages, and other challenges outside the main story mode, but it's mostly slight variations on the same theme - and it's all pretty easy.
That said, the core gameplay is a hell of a lot of fun, and the rate at which new elements are introduced is just right. This isn't up there with the classics, but for the low price it's a tough bargain to beat. For a cross-country airplane trip or a lazy Sunday when you just don't feel like anything too deep, Plants vs. Zombies is an excellent choice. My advice is to buy this game the next time you have a little spare cash, so the next time you have a few hours to kill you'll already have it installed.