Zuma’s Revenge! is a puzzle game with the very traditional and old-school mechanic of matching three or more objects of a similar color. However, developer PopCap Games, creators of such hits as Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies, has applied some new twists to this formula, including the ability for more precise controls using modern analog sticks. The result is a fun and frenzied puzzler that fans of the genre will likely enjoy.
The game, a sequel to hit 2003 title, Zuma, has a very loose narrative. That basic storyline centres upon a frog who washes onto the shore of a jungle-filled island during a storm, and ends up being confronted by some unfriendly boss characters, such as a ferocious cat and a shaman. Other than a brief opening and some periodic dialogue text from bosses in-between levels, it’s entirely forgettable. The real focus of the game is on how it plays.
Players control the frog, who sits static in a certain point on the screen and can be rotated in any direction using the left analog stick. Around the frog is a path carved into the ground from which various colored balls roll onto. They are continually moving towards a golden emblem at the end of the path, and the player must get rid of all the balls before they reach the emblem to beat each level. That is done is through shooting additional balls via the frog, who always has a random ball in its mouth. Players must quickly decide where to aim each ball, preferably into other similarly-colored groups. If at least 3 balls of the same color touch, they will be destroyed. Eventually, the balls stop coming out, and once all of the remaining ones are gone, the player moves on to the next level.
The fact that no two levels are exactly alike in layout is taken full advantage of by the developers. Unlike a game like Tetris, which always has the same rectangular void to play on, the way the balls roll in is often quite different from level to level, and an additional challenge can come from this factor. An example is a level where the path is curved in a way so that certain balls roll in front of each other, making it necessary for the player to focus on the balls in front before they can take out any of the ones in the rear.
Certain balls also enable powerups when destroyed; these are indicated by specific visual symbols. The effects are various, be they offensive (temporarily gaining a laser that can destroy any ball you aim at) or tactical (slowing down the speed at which all of the balls more forward, giving the player additional time to think and aim). Some of these power-ups feel a bit more useful than others; while the one that destroys all the balls of a certain color can be a life saver, the laser powerup only works about four times before disappearing, and it can be easy to mistakenly press the button one more time afterwards, making the frog fire an additional ball that you didn’t mean to.
Additional environmental factors are thrown into later levels. These include pressing a button to have the frog hop between two different points on each level, giving players different angles to shoot from, as well as levels where the frog is able to move manually from one side of the screen to another in a straight line, but cannot rotate. These add some nice variety to the gameplay, and are welcome when they do show up.
An incentive to replay levels comes in the form of a system of unlockable tokens for each level. These can be earned through such feats as achieving a certain score minimum by the end of the level, or finishing under a certain time. As players progress through the game, they will unlock Spirit Animals, which are essentially gameplay benefits and powerups represnted by various characters. These give the players such abilities as having fruit randomly pop up that can be shot for extra points, or accelerating the overall speed the frog fires balls at. Each Spirit Animal can be leveled up with an increasingly higher amount of tokens, with each level enhancing its effect.
The Spirit Animals are unlocked through the main campaign’s boss battles, where the frog is tasked with shooting its balls at the on-screen boss character and taking its life meter down to zero. The bosses aren’t defenseless, however, and can shoot spells that have ill effects, and are guarded by several rows of balls that the player must first clear a path through with the game’s traditional style of play.
These twists on the gameplay work well and feel rewarding. People who really get into the game will enjoy the extra incentives to go back and perfect their playthroughs of each level. It’s a good representation of the game’s quality in general. PopCap has done an admirable job of taking a very simple gameplay concept and putting enough twists on it to remain intriguing as you keep playing it. The fact that you can unlock additional modes, such as the challenging endurance run called Iron Frog or new, weekly challenges to compete against friends’ scores with, adds to the overall value of the package.
Zuma’s Revenge! gets a definite recommendation for those who enjoy a good puzzle game. It doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming too repetitive, the jungle-themed visuals are presented in a colorful and appealing manner, and it’s simply fun to play. Casual audiences will eat it up, and if you ever found yourself fond of games like Tetris or Bust-A-Move, it’s worth a try.