PopCap is the king of casual games. Simple puzzle, tower defense, and other games that can be started and stopped in less than five minutes — or turn into multi-hour festivals — represent a profit base for them that continues to grow. Regardless of the arguments of whether or not this is a good thing for the industry, one thing's for sure: Few games pull off being as addictive as some of the best PopCap products.
Case in point: Zuma, a game that was clearly inspired by the Japanese classic, Puzz Loop. Never has playing as a frog who spits balls at other balls been so addictive. Yes, that premise, although when it's worded like that, it attains a level of weirdness that is very common to PopCap's creations. Nonetheless, Zuma was a classic game with many imitators (and resulted in a direct revival of Puzz Loop itself in the Nintendo DS game, Magnetica), none of which really captured the gameplay as well as PopCap. Now, they've released a competent, fun and addictive sequel in Zuma's Revenge for PC. Inevitable piles of ports are sure to follow.
The premise of Zuma's Revenge has you playing as a frog who got himself washed up on a Polynesian island … on a raft that he built out of bamboo and a large pair of PopCap boxer shorts. The Polynesian island happens to be lorded over by several evil priestly types who have decided that frog legs sound like a delicious snack. Hence, our froggy hero is forced to run around and defeat all of them in order to escape the island.
The actual gameplay puts the frog on (usually) a single point on-screen, with a complex, winding path surrounding him. On this path, balls appear and will explode when placed adjacent to at least two others of the same color, forming a group of three or more. The frog spits out balls of random color to make this happen, and the path must be cleared before the string reaches the yellow skull. As the balls explode, gaps will appear in the path between; if the balls adjacent to the gap are of the same color, they will pull together to eliminate the gap, allowing for potentially lengthy combos. More balls continue pushing their way on-screen until the yellow "Zuma" bar is filled, and in the later levels, the game devolves into a rather manic click-fest.
Fortunately, destroying balls can give you a few different power-ups to help you out. More useful examples include slowing the flow of time, making the balls flow in reverse, or the tri-shot, which blasts an entire cone out of the level and can remove tens of balls at once. Laser eyes let you destroy a few select balls, and once you've gained the lightning power-up, shoot at a ball, and all balls of that same color will be destroyed. The precision power-up displays a line that helps you aim the ball. These power-ups will often be the only thing between you and getting eaten.
What's new to Zuma's Revenge to make it superior to the original? Aside from a few new power-ups and an array of new stages, the game also throws in a few special map types, which introduce new challenges. Some maps let the frog jump between two points, giving him two places to launch from (often two halves of a map, separated by walls), while others have you "sliding" rather than aiming, with the frog always pointing in one direction. The most significant of these are the game's boss battles. Bosses always have two lines of balls to guard them, and they'll try to hit you with attacks that will stun you for a few seconds. The priority is to clear gaps in the wall so you can strike the boss directly, since clearing the balls usually does nothing. It is these maps that can be the hardest of all because you have the fewest options here for creating the gaps that you need.
There are four different game modes in Zuma's Revenge: Adventure mode, which divides the game's 60 levels into sections of the island; a Challenge mode, which consists of 70 levels of increasing difficulty and has you meeting goals such as earning 40,000 points in three minutes (it's not as easy as it sounds!); Heroic Frog mode, which lets you replay the Adventure mode; and Iron Frog mode, an endless mode that is like the original Zuma's never-ending Gauntlet mode. Perhaps the biggest quibble that I have with the Adventure mode is that you must pick up from your last "checkpoint" instead of where you'd left off. The checkpoint is reached when you see a tourist postcard about midway through each section. It's especially difficult near the end of the Adventure mode, when you only have three lives and must encounter the perfect blend of luck, skill and speed in order to reach the next checkpoint.
The end result is the usual PopCap addictive game, with the typical PopCap level of quirk and polish. The balls now roll in beautiful 3-D, with basic, but beautiful, effects thrown in at convenient places, all at a near-perfect frame rate and completely free of any jaggies you'd normally associate with 3-D effects on 2-D graphics. The one catch is that, even with the environmental evolutions, things quickly end up feeling the same.
The sound is pretty basic but functional, with music that fits the Polynesian feel and remains nicely ambient, with subtle shifts during specific bits of gameplay. Notably, the boss battle music stays within the established theme but still manages to be highly intense. Gameplay lacks any voice work whatsoever, though. Enemies and the game's few NPCs speak solely in text bubbles, while the frog has a couple of audible "ribbits," but usually just says "ribbit" in a text bubble. Somehow, this comes across as just expressive enough.
PopCap's games seem to be hit after hit, and Zuma's Revenge follows the trend nicely by taking a successful existing formula, tweaking and adding to it while being extremely careful not to wreck it, throwing on a nice slathering of solid artwork and a little sound work, and offering it for a reasonable $20. People who are looking for a game good to kill five minutes between flights or brain-bending work-related problems now have a new, beautiful and highly enjoyable game to add to their collections.
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