Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Zuma's Revenge

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Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2009
Systems: PC (reviewed), Macintosh
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

0:00 I'm a huge fan of Bookworm and Peggle, but I've never actually played the first Zuma. That said, I did play Zuma knockoff Luxor for about five seconds before getting bored, so my hopes for this one are not too high. Then again, it is PopCap...

0:01 Lightning flashes over the PopCap logo, and a sea roils in the background during the initial loading. A frog on a raft with boxer short sails floats by. When the loading is done, the sky clears and an island with huge tiki torches appears in the background.

0:03 "Strange frog, why do you intrude on us?" says a hooded black figure. "This island is no holiday resort! Five fierce chiefs guard our mysteries!" "Ribbit," replies the frog. First up, the "Jungle of Mystery."

0:05 So I control the frog in the center of the screen, rotating him with the mouse. A click makes him spit a colored ball at an advancing line of similar balls spiraling around the center. Match three of the same color and they blow up. Match enough and the "ZUMA!" bar fills up and the line stops getting new balls. The mouse-based controls couldn't be more intuitive, and the interface makes it really easy to aim shots accurately. The graphics and sound effects are the usual infectious PopCap fare ... light and airy. I finish the first level in 38 seconds ... the "Ace Time" is 30. "Who are you, tasty frog?" asks the lion waiting a few levels down.

0:07 I actually get the "Ace Time" in Level 2, finishing in a mere 32 seconds. "Roar! I'm famished!" says the lion.

Zuma's Revenge

0:09 I get greedy going for the ZUMA-meter enhancing fruit in Level 3, missing some simple shots and messing up the color balance on the line of balls. Takes me quite a bit longer to finish. So far I can't figure out any deeper strategy to the game, other than reflex-based color-matching. This is depressing.

0:10 Lots of power-ups in Level 4, including some that slow down and/or reverse the flow of balls and another that helps my firing speed and accuracy. I wish that last one was the default ... makes the game and interface much more enjoyable.

0:12 Level 5 puts my frog at the bottom, sliding about to aim balls straight up as the line of balls rolls back and forth. I think I preferred the center. Also in this level: An accidental right-click switched the color of the ball. Maybe there's some strategy to this after all. I'm surprised the game didn't mention this feature in some sort of tutorial...

0:15 I just noticed that my froggy avatar has a tiny dot representing the color of the next ball. With practice I can see this speeding things up significantly. For now, I'm darting my eyes back to the center of the screen to check it before firing toward the screen edge.

0:17 I come very close to failing in Level 7. I do well enough early, keeping a "chain" of successful explosions going longer than expected, but the color patterns get tougher near the end and I have to shoot frantically to stop the line from getting to its end.

0:19 I manage to get a chain of 12 explosions going in Level 8, but then I'm forced to end it when the balls I get don't match with any explodable balls. LAME!

0:23 Level 9 has two separate lines of balls, one on each side of the screen. It's a lot to keep track of, but some line-slowing items help me get things under control eventually. At one point, I set up a combo where one shot causes two explosions via chain reaction. I'm rather proud of myself, until I see my final completion time: 2:45. The "Ace Time" was 1:05. Man, I suck.

0:25 I blaze through Level 10, just six seconds short of the Ace Time. My secret: not thinking, just shooting at the biggest group of like-colored balls I can find.

0:26 "Challenge mode now unlocked," says the game as the boss lion says "At last! Let's Eat!" says the lion. Kahtiki Kahn is his name: The Ancient Devil Idol. "Elders tell of a lost city in the jungle, where a stone demon takes the heads of men. None who go ever return." Boss Battle, the game scream in big letters. "Do you have fight in you? Shoot me if you dare." I do. "You dared! How dare you!" Heh.

0:28 I'm at the bottom again, firing up at Kahtiki through a wall of moving balls. I have to break through and hit him in the mouth, while also dodging his flaming paw-fists. I get hit once, but finish him off without too much trouble. "You broke my mouth! My tongue's hanging out all like GLAHHHH. My four brothers will avenge my tongue." "Ribbit," I say. Next is "Quiet Village." Seems quiet. TOO quiet.

0:31 I'm beginning to think more strategically about my shots, setting up lots of sets of two-colored balls that are more likely to make combos when I destroy their neighbors. I have a chain of 14 explosions going, only to be ruined when the balls randomly slide back and away from my shot. GAH!

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0:34 I come EXTREMELY close to dying in this latest level, avoiding death by a hair's breadth. Each level seems to be really easy early on, then much harder late when the last few balls are separated from their like colors. Maybe it's my fault ... am I not planning ahead sufficiently? I just can't seem to figure out the strategy here...

0:37 My first utter failure -- the line of balls reaches the end of its path and I lose one of five lives. It's my own fault ... I stalled early, waiting for a set of balls that could extend my chain. I'm not taking my own advice ... just shooting at the first set of balls that look big and interesting, and I'm paying the price.

0:40 Things go better the second time around. I start looking for "sandwiches," where one color group is surrounded by two groups of the same color. These seem to make for good combo opportunities. My 17-chain in this level is a new personal record.

0:43 I somehow luck into a cascading quadruple combo early, totally decimating the playfield and building up my ZUMA meter to stop the ball progress rather quickly. Yup ... combos seem to be the key. I manage a huge chain of 27 explosion shots in a row too, leading to huge points. You know what they say: It's better to be lucky than good.

Zuma's Revenge

0:46 Wow ... I think I actually set up a legitimate triple combo cascade that level. I'm getting better at finding those combo opportunities, slowly but surely. It's not all reflexes, after all!

0:53 Another level centered on two mirrored streams of balls. I get a 21-chain, and another triple combo.

0:54 Quote of the moment: "My magic is purely strong and evil!" Thanks for the update, big boss man.

0:55 I know I should be looking for combos and such, but most of the time I just give up and hit the first thing I see that will work. It's worked all right so far, but I feel I'm playing below my ability...

0:57 Quote of the moment: "Do you feel it? The terror?" No ... not really...

0:59 I like the laser item, which lets me cherry-pick errant, lone balls and set up lots of combos. I don't like the structure of this level, with lots of vertical sections of balls that force me to wait before firing from below. Ugh.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? While it's not as inherently addictive and engaging as Peggle or Bookworm, it's diverting enough to tinker with while watching some bad TV.

This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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