Release Date: July 15, 2008
The first volume of PopCap Hits! proved to be a good package of casual games for PlayStation 2 owners who would rather play games on a TV instead of on a PC monitor. The included games, AstroPop and Bejeweled 2, were great examples of how the young company can make a game that would appeal to both the casual and hardcore gaming crowd. If there was one complaint that could be levied against the package, however, it was that the titles were too similar to each other. For a company that makes a wide variety of games, packing in two puzzle titles in their initial PS2 offering would give the impression that all they ever produced were puzzle games. With the first volume as a success, PopCap Hits! Vol. 2 was inevitable.
In this compilation, however, PopCap eclipsed the efforts of the first volume and provided what could be argued as the best version yet. Like the first volume, Vol. 2 contains two of PopCap's most popular games. Unlike the first volume, however, there is some variety to the games presented here. Vol. 2 contains a puzzle game, Zuma, and an action game, Heavy Weapon.
Zuma is another puzzle game that puts a new spin on the genre. Using a stone frog in the center of the playfield, you shoot colored balls at a stream of other colored balls coming down a track. As usual, matching at least three balls of the same color will cause them to disappear. Making enough matches will fill up a meter that will stop the flow of colored balls, and getting rid of them all at that point will take you to the next level. Letting the balls reach the end of the line will cause you to lose one life, and if you lose all of them, the game is over.
Zuma comes with two modes: Adventure and Gauntlet. Adventure mode is where the user progresses level by level until the end of the game. As you progress, each level gets different tracks and different speeds, with the ancient Aztec civilization providing a basic story backdrop for it all. Meanwhile, Gauntlet mode takes the endless survival modes from PopCap's puzzle games and gives it a ranking system. Players go through the same track, earning ranks as they progress through the level. Once they reach the highest rank, the level ends, and the player goes on to the next level, and this repeats until players lose all of their lives.
Unlike most PopCap titles, Zuma's graphics contain a deeper palette of colors on top of a more sophisticated look. Yes, the statues and the frog you control have a cartoon-like style to them, but there are more details in everything the game has to offer. Even the colored balls contain engravings on them meant to resemble little faces carved out in the Aztec style. Meanwhile, the particle effects present when balls disappear look great, and the graphical pointer for the frog is clean and helpful without being too distracting.
The sound effects and music all stick to the Aztec theme. The music changes depending on how well you do and present a medley composed of solid drum beats and wooden flutes. While the effects of the balls being launched or disappearing don't stand out too much, the voices are a different story. The close imitation of what the Aztec people would have sounded like really adds flavor to Zuma and sticks to the theme very well.
The controls perform well on the PS2. Like the Xbox 360 version of the game, the left analog stick is used to aim while the X button is used to fire the ball, and Circle is used to switch out balls. The control scheme works and is a good alternative to the mouse used in the PC iteration. However, the big news here is that the PS2 version supports vibration. Unlike the PC and Xbox 360 versions, vibration is felt in key situations such as making a match or losing. It's not a huge deal, but the addition is nice and offers something that the other versions do not.
The second game in the collection, Heavy Weapon, is an interesting choice because it moves away from the puzzle genre. Heavy Weapon is an action game that looks deceptively simple but is quite difficult. Players drive a souped-up tank through 12 levels of shooting in order to save the United States from a Soviet invasion in 1984. Enemies come from all directions (except the bottom) in a side-scroller where you can move the tank, but the game automatically pushes you forward. At the end of each level, you have a big boss fight, after which you have the chance to upgrade your vehicle with anything from missiles to defensive orbs.
Heavy Weapon is split up into two modes, just like Zuma. Adventure mode takes you through all 12 levels as you follow a very thin story about how you, the Atomic Tank, are the last hope for winning the war for freedom. Endless mode sends wave after wave of enemies your way until you completely run out of lives. Interestingly, in Endless mode, the tank is the same as the one from the Adventure mode, complete with all of the upgrades. This means that you have a much better chance at surviving Endless mode if you play through Adventure mode first.
The graphics are a good mix between cartoony and sophisticated. The tank and other vehicles sport nice, bright colors but there's also plenty of detail to them. The particle effects from the gunfire and the explosions are nicely done, especially the atomic bomb that you can detonate when you're in trouble. What's more amazing, though, is that despite everything that's going on, you don't get a hint of slowdown anywhere. It certainly speaks volumes when a sprite-based game such as this doesn't slow down unintentionally.
The sound effects really accentuate the chaos going on around you. Every explosion and gunshot is loud and booming, but they're not loud enough to drown out the musical soundtrack, which does a great job of getting you into the action mood. Every musical track here sounds like something you would find in a cheesy '80s action flick, just the way it should be.
Gameplay is excellent in Heavy Weapon. The dual analog setup is like that of Smash TV or Robotron 2084. The left stick moves your tank left and right, while the right stick shoots the gun in any direction. It's a very simple setup and one that feels easier to deal with than the keyboard and mouse control scheme of the PC. In a strange twist, the difficulty here feels tougher than what casual game players may be used to. Yes, the early levels are easy enough that you can probably pass one or two without dying, but by the third level, the difficulty level increases just enough that the game becomes really tough. Again, casual players might be caught off guard by the sudden rise in difficulty, but more seasoned players will truly appreciate the challenge.
The Behind the Scenes section of Vol. 1 was decent enough, with illustrations and artwork from both of the games. The Behind the Scenes section of Vol. 2 is a little more robust. The illustrations are still there, but there are also two videos for each title present here. The first video from the game's producer tells about the game's origin and also presents a bit of trivia on each game. The second video comes from the QA guys, and they give you some tips and pointers for how to survive each game and how to get a higher score than usual. While there are only two videos that accompany each game, they go a very long way in giving you more insight into each game, and they're much more satisfying than artwork alone.
From the moment you boot up PopCap Hits! Vol. 2, you realize that PopCap didn't just copy and paste two of their titles with the old structure of Vol. 1 and call it a day. They looked at some of the issues with the first compilation and improved on it in every way possible. They made sure that this volume had some variety to it and featured two completely different types of games. They added new features, and they made sure that the bonus features were more than just illustrations. Add that to the fact that the games, Zuma and Heavy Weapon, are great in their own right, and you have a game compilation worthy of PS2 owners who are looking for a great experience without having to spend lots of money.