Nick's Gaming Blog

Zuma’s Revenge–Less of a Review, More an Admission of Addiction

Some of you might be aware of a moment in time which I have classified as “The Zuma Incident.”  As it so often occurs, Zuma struck me when I expected it least, by “stowing away” on a retail copy of Plants vs. Zombies.  Heck, I didn’t even see it coming, as I was previously attached to the IV-drip of Peggle that also made up this Popcap triumvirate.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel at one point.  Plants vs. Zombies eventually emphasized strategy over speed, and required ten/fifteen minute replays to correct mistakes.  Peggle, not unlike Angry Birds, allowed for “lucky bounces” and “randomosity” to trump player skill, so that it was no longer a question of if but when the player would beat the title.  I even slogged through its expansion, Peggle Nightsbefore slamming the door closed on that addiction.

Welcome to Zuma’s Revenge, where even the marble mascots infuriate me.

But then there was Zuma.  My “white whale” of infuriating “so colorful and simple you shouldn’t have any problem with it” gaming.  I mean, that’s really the problem, people.  When you’ve beaten Metro 2033, all other arguments of gaming difficulty are rendered moot.  Aside from Halo: Reach on “Legendary” and Far Cry 2 on “Infamous.”  Those two are still permitted to stick around.

The point being this, when you’ve fended off “a thousand bad guys with swords” waves of well-armed Ruskie bandits in the sewers of a post-apocalyptic Russia with only a handful of rounds and a pea-shooter…but then find oneself struggling in games that tell you to “match the colors”…

It can be a bit ego-bruising…that’s all.

For those that have not gazed upon the Void and found that this Void’s achievements probably don’t merit the time invested…Zuma works a bit like this.  You’re a frog with the ability to shoot marbles of several different colors.  All levels begin by a string of marbles winding its way out of the entry point in the level towards the end point.  Were you to do nothing, they would eventually proceed to said “exit” and you’d be greeted by a “Game Over” screen.

Your way of preventing this untimely fate is by shooting marbles at other marbles of the same color to make a string of three marbles.  When you do, they disappear, and the weaving coil of marbles stops…if ever so briefly.  The strategy is to “chain” these strings of three marbles so that one removal of a triplet necessitates the removal of another three.  This is assisted by power-ups that can explode sections of the marbles like bombs, as well as others that can put the marbles in “reverse” for a few seconds, or slow down the board, making marble shots easier.

It’s easy to learn, so one can never “rest easy” on the burgeoning crutch that is ignorance, and yet your success relies heavily on the “hand” you’re dealt.  One can struggle through any “hand” to destroy all the marbles from the field of play, but to “medal” either in total points or “time of completion” the accomplished player will frequently “restart” the level within ten seconds of starting it.

And this, this is why Zuma is the devil incarnate.

With all of this in mind, you’re probably wondering if Zuma’s Revenge differs at all from its previous installment, heroin  Zuma.

Here you can see two new features: the laser power-up, and the ability to fire from multiple hubs.

Yeah, it does.  It’s a hell of a lot easier.  For starters, the game lets you save after every stage, instead of requiring you to beat all of the stages in a level to save your progress.  And what a difference that makes.  You used to struggle to make it to the next level, only to be quickly smashed into the ground.  And so, you’d spend twenty-thirty minutes fighting your way back.  Of course, you wouldn’t beat the level the second time either.  You’d just hope to learn enough tricks about the level layout to have a “fighting chance” your third or fourth time you got there.

But after several attempts at making it back to the level you were struggling on, you’ll find yourself angry and tired.  Pretty soon you’re attempting shots your slimy amphibious body can’t cash.  Your either start “writing off” the lead-up stages as “gimmes” and don’t even make it to the stage in question, or find yourself actually beating the stage you previously couldn’t…but it’s not the last stage of the level, and the following stage kicks your ass all the way back to square one.

This is what Zuma used to be.  Sometimes you could devote two/three hours to beating a level, and come away with nothing to show for it.

Well, “nothing” is a bit misleading.  You’d probably have swollen thumbs, a throbbing headache, blurred vision, and an inability to differentiate between shades of blue and shades of purple.

Don’t say Zuma didn’t give ‘ya nothing.

But now it’s like your rich uncle (provided you have one…if not, replace with your equally wealthy relative) is feeding you quarters to The Simpsons game in the arcade: you will beat the game…but that victory is going to feel awfully void of any sense of accomplishment.

The levels seem more forgiving too.  There are six levels, for the record…and I made my way halfway through level 5 before dying for the first time.  Did I mention the power-ups are more plentiful, and wreak more havoc than previously?  The bomb power used to detonate wherever the marble chain was made.  Now after you make the chain, it lets you launch the bomb wherever you desire.  This is accompanied by all of the old powers, as well as a tri-shot that barrels across the field, and a laser that lets you remove problematic marbles or target other power-ups with dangerous precision.

Pretty quickly one discovers that “chaining” one power-up shot into the next is a fairly easy way of wrapping up any stage in under 90 seconds or so.  Alas, that’s not all in the concessions Popcap made to make this installment more “accessible” to newcomers.  Each level offers a potential 3 medals for the following: level completion, beating “set time” for level, and reaching the “high score” the game imposes.  These coins can then be spent on leveling up “helper” animals that boost such abilities as “shot speed” and frequency with which power-up balls appear.

There are a few non power-up additions to mix things up, if only a little.  Certain levels have a side-scroll feel where the player is “stuck” to a horizontal or vertical line he/she must move back and forth on that harkens back to something like Space Invaders.  Other levels offer up a pair of lily pad bases that the player must switch between if he wants a fighting chance at beating the level, as well as levels capping off with a boss fight.

One of the new gameplay elements, the “top-down” level, can be seen here.

The visuals are still as bright and vibrant (and Tiki-infused) as they were the first time around, but are slightly more varied, and have more to look at than before.  Of course, with a game like this, background-gazing is likely to be your downfall at any point after level one.  Music’s relatively unchanged, but most players can tune that out anyway.

Bottom line: For ten bucks, this “easy to learn, hard to master” gem of a game is well worth the opening price.  It’s colorful as the language you’ll spew in its “10 levels, one life, no resets” Iron Frog mode, though pros will coast through the remainder of the game without any struggle.  Those looking for replay value will spend hours climbing the leaderboards and attempting the weekly challenges Popcap is putting out.

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