Popcap’s Zuma, much like Bejeweled 2, is the epitome of what has been dubbed digital crack. Far from being a casual game, Zuma is an utterly hardcore, stripped to the minimum brain-melting and astonishingly difficult ball-based puzzler. The game itself is actually 5 years old (and, to be fair, based on even earlier mechanics and themes) and has appeared on everything from Windows to mobile phones, but this latest version, Zuma Deluxe, is the best in terms of options and scope.
The plan, as with all good games of this ilk, is to start out simple, hook in the player and then slowly ramp up the speed and difficulty until the poor gamer is left with eyes drier than sandpaper four hours later. The premise – fire coloured balls from your spinnable, centrally located Mayan frog at other encroaching balls – is as simple as it gets but with a few twists and bonus features in play Zuma offers a sizable, robust challenge for a budget price, and of course comes with Trophies.
The oncoming balls roll uniformly along a pre-set track, which whilst different in each level always terminates at one or more skulls set into the ground. If a single ball falls into a skull it’s game over, but luckily the coloured balls you fire will destroy any other balls of a similar colour when they collide, as long as there’s at least three balls involved in the collision. If there’s just one other ball when you fire the two of them will nestle in together, if there’s more in a chain then they’ll all disappear.
Two other things can happen here: if the balls on either side of the now-vanished chain are the same colour then they’ll snap together, dragging all the other balls along for the ride – this is good because it’ll mean that the end of the line of balls will move back depending on how many balls you manage to destroy with your shot as the others join up. Alternatively, your fired ball may have hit a special bonus ball which come in four distinct flavours.
The first is a backwards ball, which once destroyed reverses the flow of balls away from the skull for a short while. The second is a pause ball, which slows the onslaught completely for a few seconds. There’s also a bomb (which just takes out nearby balls of any colour) and what Popcap call an accuracy ball, which gives you a pointer so you can’t blame the game when you miss. These four power-ups are clearly identified on the balls themselves so you can aim for the specific tool for the job at hand.
Other nuances of the system include the coins that occasionally appear around the outside of the board – hit enough of these with your balls and the whole rack will go into reverse for a little while giving you some much needed time to think. Finally, the player can switch the current ball with the next one queued (which may indeed be the same colour) with a tap of the circle button. Both of these extra mechanics add a little to the strategy of the game. There’s also the option for Remote Play, and whilst the Dual Shock works better in this game than the 360 pad did, it’s actually really tricky on the PSP. Nice to have the feature, though.
As the game progresses, multiple lines of balls will start to appear, the balls will move faster, there will be more colours of balls (starting at 4 and progressing to 7) and the skulls, it seems, become hungrier. Adventure Mode is where the main meat of the game lays, and with 11 sets of levels (each with 4 or 5 sub-levels in each) there’s plenty to get your teeth into, with a special secret bonus level at the end.
Your enjoyment of the game, then, will depend on how much of the exact same mechanic you can stick – Zuma doesn’t change its spots or pretend to be anything it’s not. If you’re looking for a deceptively deep puzzle game with plenty of lifespan then Popcap’s latest entry into the world of the PSN is well worth investigating. The port is solid, although the PS3 version seems a little expensive and appears to suffer from somewhat low-grade backdrops which look as if they’ve been heavily compressed, and with the download just hitting 22MB this is indeed probably the case.
No big deal though, Zuma is an evergreen classic.