The zombies are coming for you...by way of your lawn. In Plants vs. Zombies ($20, free demo), you defend your suburban homestead (and your delicious brains) by planting Peashooters, Potato Mines, Fume-Shrooms, and more. A cross between Resident Evil and Alice Greenfingers, this gleefully goofy game combines horticulture with pop culture--and gives you a healthy dose of humor with your zombie-shooting action.
Plants vs. Zombies starts you out with one little strip of turf that you man with Peashooters, which shoot peas at the zombies. As the zombies advance into ballistic vegetable matter, they fall apart amusingly. Should one get through your lines of defense, a lawnmower will mow it down...but don't over-rely on that. Even in the suburbs, the lawnmower supply is limited--and if the zombies reach the front door, you become an off-screen brain buffet.
The planting is hardly an idyllic weekend activity. Plants need sunshine, which falls from the sky or from the Sunflowers you plant--but not as quickly as you might like. Not only that, each seed packet has to refill with seeds before you can use it again. As the game progresses in difficulty, you'll find yourself creating strategies for harvesting sunlight and planting at just the right time. Courtesy of the Doom & Bloom Seed Company, you earn packets of new botanical weaponry: exploding Cherry Bombs, enemy-slowing Snow Peas, fortress-like Wall-Nuts, and so forth.
Over time, more types of zombies shamble forward: zombies helmeted with traffic cones or buckets, armored with screen doors, carrying poles for vaulting. The landscape changes, too, adding more lawn. Eventually, the zombies head for the back yard pool, and you're treated to the sight of zombies floating in ducky life preservers. It takes wit and a well-stocked gardening arsenal to stop them. Your well-named neighbor Crazy Dave is the proprietor of the in-game store, selling new seeds and gardening implements of doom. You buy them from the back of Crazy Dave's station wagon with the money earned in mini-games and the change zombies drop when they expire.
Plants vs. Zombies is like nothing you've ever seen, but it incorporates all kinds of things you have seen. One zombie type wears Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video costume. Others, such as the Dolphin Rider Zombie and the Jack-in-The-Box Zombie, seem like winks at movies. And it's hard not to start singing Little Shop of Horror tunes when you first see the Chomper plants in action. The zombies and the plants just get stranger and stranger. Add to this the 20 unlockable mini games (Slot Machine and Wall-Nut Bowling are early favorites) and many puzzles, and Plants vs. Zombies keeps on surprising you.
Plants vs. Zombies goes for goofiness, not gore. The look is more like card game Give Me the Brain than splatterfest Resident Evil; expect cartoony zombie decapitations, but no blood spatters. Zombies call out their rallying cry of "Brains!" over Laura Shigihara's light-hearted score. If you're up all night with Plants vs. Zombies, it'll be because you're having too much fun to stop, not because you're too rattled to sleep.
Note: This demo is level-locked at level 3-4 and is a few plants short of the full version. It includes 3 of the 20 mini-games. To keep playing whack-a-zombie on your lawn, you must pay Crazy Dave...er, the vendor...the full $20. Dave tells you all about it himself in a "nag scene" at the end of the demo.