It almost feels like PopCap's late arrival to the Nintendo DS gave others the opportunity to fill the system's void of casual games. Some experiences like Bookworm, Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies just couldn't be replicated, so the company scored new fans when those versions arrived. However, other PopCap titles may have really missed a chance to shine due to the earlier arrival of similar games to the system. While Bejeweled may have helped spur on a big match-three craze, the system had already seen several games of that type before the arrival of PopCap's flagship franchise. Likewise, PopCap's newest NDS game, Zuma's Revenge, has already been upstaged by Nintendo, who took a similar concept and called it Magnetica. There's nothing like the original, though, and Zuma's Revenge proves that it's still tons of fun.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, you're a frog that can shoot colored balls from his mouth. Each level has you staying in one spot, with mobility limited to rotation while colored balls travel down a predetermined path toward a skull, the game ending once the first ball reaches the end. Your job is to fire colored balls at balls of the same color. If the balls create a consecutive match of at least three, the segment disappears. Players keep performing this action until a meter is filled, causing the train of balls to stop being produced. From here, players simply clear out the remaining balls to finish the level and move on to the next.
There are several gameplay modes. The heart is Adventure mode, which adds a story to the proceedings. In the opening scenes, the frog is set adrift on a raft in the ocean and stumbles upon an island. Upon landing, he's greeted by a hooded figure that warns him of the five spirits guarding the island and how they don't take too kindly to strangers. Not able to understand a word, the frog ventures forth anyway to face the spirits through 60 different levels.
Adventure mode introduces a few new concepts to the formula. Even though most of the levels have you rotating in one spot, there are a few where you're a bit more mobile. Some of those stages give you alternate spots to rotate from while others give you a track. Those additions are useful during the boss fights, which mix up traditional shooter fights with the game's puzzle aspect. Essentially, you have to worry about destroying the boss with multiple shots as well as ensuring that the ball train never reaches the end, giving you two things to juggle at once and making for some frantic stages.
Power-ups have always been a part of the game, but in Zuma's Revenge, they've been expanded upon greatly. You still have the basic set that appears on the track and activates when a match is made, including explosive balls, balls that send the train in reverse, and balls that either slow down or momentarily stop the train. Lightning balls give you the ability to select a color and have all visible balls of the color be destroyed, and both the Laser and Accuracy balls give you aiming guides for perfect placement. Finally, there's the triple shot, which sends out three balls in a spread pattern, creating gaps and possible matches in the process.
Completing Adventure mode opens up more levels in Challenge mode, as well as the Iron Frog mode itself. Challenge has you trying to get through 70 new levels, each one increasing in difficulty. Each level has a base score goal as well as an Ace score, and each level only ends once the ball train reaches the goal. Then there's Iron Frog, which plays out like a Survival mode from other games. You're given one life and 10 levels in which to score as many points as possible.
Daily Dungeon proves to be one of the more interesting modes, and one it's unique to the DS system. Every day, a slot machine doles out three random levels from three different categories. Astro gives you 10 levels where a short train of balls appears. The catch is that it all takes place in space and the ball path is rendered invisible. Blitz gives you one minute to score as many points as possible, and all of the power-ups acquired from Adventure mode are available here. Then there's Boss, unlocked once Adventure has been completed, which has you fighting against one of the spirits from Adventure mode. Each of the three comes with two different goals that vary between attaining a certain score to completing different types of matches and chains. Completing these goals opens up pieces to a Dungeon Calendar, which resets itself every five days. While it's annoying for those who don't have time for the game every day, the nature of these goals and the time spent on them adds to the game's addictive nature.
Zuma's Revenge is also available for the DS via DSiWare, and this is where things get interesting. For the most part, both the physical game cart and the downloadable DSiWare version are the same, from the technical aspects right down to the modes. The only mode exclusive to the game cart is Versus, which has three modes of its own. Battle pits you against a friend in an endurance race to see who loses first. Though losses can occur via one's own merits, the mode gives you the ability to add more balls to your opponent's train or, should you make a match, make their train shorter. Survival works on the same concept but keeps players separated in the field. Instead, creating chains and combos sends over a spirit that randomly adds balls to the opposing chain. Finally, Score Attack plays out similarly to Blitz, which has both players spending one minute in the same level, with the winner being the one who scores the most points by the end. The modes are great fun, but they require both players to have a copy of the cart, so that'll definitely limit your opponents.
The controls are exclusively a touch-screen-based affair, and for the most part, it works perfectly. Tapping on the screen is all that you'll need to fire a ball, and it comes through accurately. Subsequently, grabbing the frog with your stylus to move him around his path or tap on the next platform is also easy and responsive. About the only thing that may be troublesome is the act of changing out the balls the frog is about to fire, since that's done by tapping on the frog. It becomes problematic when you're dragging the frog along the path and not intending to fire, but otherwise, the control scheme works well enough.
Like most of PopCap's games, the sound of the original is too rich for the DS to handle. The effects fit in perfectly, and the music is lighthearted enough, fitting in with the atmosphere nicely. However, there are times when any one of these elements sounds muffled, even through headphones. Although it doesn't happen often enough, it is noticeable.
The same can be said of the graphics. It's easy to make out the colors and shapes on the board, and both the frog and the bosses have a good amount of detail. The backgrounds, like the music, fit with the theme perfectly without providing anything distracting. However, those who've seen the game on the PC know that these environments come with lush, bright colors, which are a bit muted in this version. It still looks good, but the colors could have been more intense.
There's no doubt that Zuma's Revenge is a perfect title for the Nintendo DS. The easy-to-learn nature of the title makes it inviting to pick up, and the gradual introduction of more difficult levels gives it an addictive flavor as you're always enticed to push forward. The extra modes give it a long lifespan once the main adventure is over, and the random challenges from the Daily Dungeon give the title even longer legs. With that said, the only question is how important versus mode is to you. With just about every other mode already available on the DSiWare iteration at less than half the cost, that is the deciding factor. Since versus mode requires a second cart, the cost is simply too great for that one extra mode. The game is still highly recommended for puzzle fans, but unless you still own an original Nintendo DS or DS Lite, stick with the cheaper but fully featured DSiWare version instead.
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