Even my grandmother plays Zuma, one of PopCap’s most successful titles (the game moved more than 17 million units globally). In Zuma, you control a frog, shooting balls of various colors from his mouth into an advancing chain of balls that weaves through the level. If you can match up 3 or more colored balls, they disappear from the map and points are scored. Levels are completed when you successfully remove all the balls from the screen before they can trigger a trap door, which causes you to lose your life. The game proved to be incredibly addictive and still has an audience, even 6 years after release. Finally, after all those years of waiting, fans can get their hands on Zuma’s Revenge!, PopCap’s recently-released follow-up to the original.
Once again, players assume the role of Nameless Frog, but the setting has changed – the game takes place on the island paradise of Zhaka Mu, which is inhabited by evil tiki boss characters that want nothing to do but kill you. You’ll be tasked to work your way through a series of increasingly difficult levels, with every 10 levels culminating in an epic showdown against a boss. Each boss has a different vulnerability you’ll have to exploit while simultaneously clearing a chain of balls in order to progress. You’ll need to do this over and over again through more than 50 levels in order to complete the adventure mode, which then unlocks the even harder Iron Frog gauntlet, a new mode that challenges players to conquer 10 difficult levels consecutively. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be able to go through a challenge mode, which tasks players with hitting a target score with just three minutes of furious clicking to work with.
Obviously, PopCap’s giving you a lot of game here. You’ll move through several different areas, with new areas occasionally introducing another color ball into the equation that you’ll need to clear beyond the red, blue, yellow and green in the early levels. Most levels feature our fearless frog centered in the middle of the screen. Able to rotate in a complete circle, you’ll only need your mouse as you fire balls into the train, racking up points and combos as you try to prevent an untimely death. Balls emerge from a tunnel on one part of the screen and then move through the level in a weaving pattern, sometimes in-and-out of additional tunnels that serve as obstacles. Other times, two chains of balls will come out from opposite tunnels, forcing you to keep your eyes on two sides of the screen at once. There are even levels where you can hop between two lily pads, giving you greater shot flexibility and allowing for some more intricate level design.
All of this culminates in a fairly challenging, addictive game. It’s typical PopCap – you can’t resist playing just one more level. It’s incredibly nerve-racking as you try to surgically clear away a few remaining balls drifting perilously closer to the level’s trap door that, once triggered, sucks all of the balls off the screen and takes the frog (and one of your limited lives) with them. Handy power-ups (earned by clearing away special balls), such as the new one-shot lightning ability that removes all the balls of a particular color from the screen in one go, can make or break your game. My personal favorite was the all-new laser power-up, which slows down the train of balls and allows you to burn away single balls. This is particularly helpful when one stupid ball of a different color is keeping you from clearing a group of balls. I called this the “bad shot corrector,” since most of the time I used it to clear away my mistakes.
Topping this off is perhaps the best graphics engine that PopCap has ever unleashed. It isn’t Crysis, but the graphics in this game are very surprising. The game is incredibly colorful, with the 3D balls literally popping off the detailed backdrops. If you get a chance to use the lightning or new tri-shot power-up (basically, a shotgun blast that annihilates everything it hits), you’ll see some impressive particle effects as lightning showers the screen and the balls shatter into a million pieces. You’ll also get widescreen support and high-resolution graphics. The trade-off for this seems to be that the game takes a little longer to start up than some other PopCap games I’ve played, but it’s not an issue to be concerned with since it doesn’t detract from the experience at all.
But while the game can be very addictive, I did encounter a few issues. For one, there were a number of times where I attempted to shoot the ball between rows, only to have it latch on to the wrong ball, even with a power-up to make my shots more precise. While I’ll admit to taking some bad shots every now and again, I was sometimes really surprised where the ball ended up in relation to where I expected it to go. And while hopping between lily pads offers the designers some more flexibility and creativity, it comes with usability issues. If you don’t click the lily pad exactly, you’ll end up shooting instead of hopping. I think that, given the pace of the game, the clickable area should have been extended slightly beyond the pad to account for slight misclicks in the heat of battle.
And while you are given a lot in the package, I did eventually tire of Zuma’s Revenge. I unlocked the Iron Gauntlet (though I’ll admit that, as of review time, I haven’t managed to conquer it – yet) and played quite a few challenges, but even with some conditions and rules, the gameplay isn’t a whole lot different than the first level you play when you arrive at the island. Perhaps the addition of a level editor, customized matches, or better still, multiplayer, could have added some more life to the title. As it stands, you’re given quite a bit for the low cost of admission, but it’s basically the difference between a small and large portion of French fry at McDonalds – you might get more with the large, but they’re still the same fries.
All in all though, I had fun with Zuma’s Revenge. When you’re still digging the game, there are a whole lot of levels to plow your way through. And while it might not have the longevity of some of their other titles, it’s certainly a step above PopCap’s recently released Bookworm Adventures 2. With a few improvements, this could have been a top game in PopCap’s lineup. As it is, Zuma’s Revenge offers a simple and challenging game that will certainly please both fans of the original and newcomers, but both groups will probably play it once and be done with it.