It's been nearly three years since PopCap first debuted on PC screens, but the XBLA version of Zuma's Revenge is more than a simple port. With new modes and gameplay tweaks, it may just be the best version yet.
Zuma's Revenge sees the return of PopCap's ball-battling frog, an unlikely but endearing hero. This time around, he's marooned on a desert island and must battle the tiki spirits in order to survive. The core gameplay is still focused on matching colored balls, but the implementation makes everything feel fresh.
The biggest, and most important, change to the XBLA version of Zuma's Revenge is the complete integration of leaderboards across each aspect of the game. Performance is tracked across individual levels, with scores being updated on the fly. It's completely seamless, making it possible to see how you compare against the world in real time.
While the leaderboards are tracked on score, individual levels also offer level-specific goals. You are awarded one spirit token for completing a level, one for beating the target score and a third for beating the target time. Besting the target score for each level is fairly easy to do, though achieving some of the target times can be a challenge.
The spirit tokens can then be used to level up four spirit animals, offering bonuses such as faster shot speeds, more power-up balls, increased bonus fruit and increased score. Purists can turn off these bonuses at any time, but having them enabled makes for a faster, more competitive game.
Having the spirit token goals spread across Adventure mode means that the stand-alone challenge mode from both the PC original and the Nintendo DS version of the game is no more. The essential components have all been integrated into the main game, including the ability to replay any completed level at any time.
Daily Dungeon mode on the DS has been eliminated, in favor of the new Weekly Challenge mode. Weekly Challenge features a single level from Adventure mode every week and challenges players to climb the leaderboard for that specific course. While the shenanigans of "Space Frog" will be missed, competing against live scores versus artificial goals is certainly addictive. It's likely that this will be the mode that players return to over and over again, long after besting Adventure mode.
Also new to the XBLA version of Zuma's Revenge is Boss Rush mode. Here, the goal is simply a matter of time. Points don't matter, but every second counts. All of the bosses in the game are thrown at you, one after the other, and you need to eliminate them as fast as possible.
Finally, there is Iron Frog. Present in the other versions of the game, this collection of 10 expert levels is designed with nothing more than difficulty in mind. You're given one life. Fail a level, and you have to restart the course from the very beginning.
Control in Zuma's Revenge is surprisingly good, with the Xbox 360 controller feeling both natural and accurate. Zuma's Revenge might seem like a game designed for a mouse, but after playing on the console, it's difficult to prefer anything else. One of the issues with the DS game was accuracy in tight quarters. That's not the case here. If you mess up when playing on the big screen, it always feels like your fault.
The addition of a colored arrow extending from the Frog's mouth is a nice touch, as it ensures you always know which ball is locked and loaded. It may not seem like much, but since survival in Zuma's Revenge can hinge on setting up a combo chain, every second counts.
If there is anything disappointing about this version of Zuma's Revenge, it's the lack of multiplayer. The leaderboards are a huge incentive to keep playing, but having a big screen version of the versus mode included with the DS game would have been awesome.
For many developers, a port is just a port, but instead of churning out a straight port, PopCap took Zuma's Revenge and redesigned it with the Xbox 360 in mind. The resulting product is both the best version of Zuma's Revenge as well as the cheapest at only 800 MSP ($10 USD). If you're looking for a Zuma fix, this is it.
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