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Zuma (PlayStation 3) artwork

Zuma (PlayStation 3) review

"Zuma is an evil, evil game that teleports you several hours through through your evening straight to bed-time when you swore to yourself you would just try a few rounds."

Puzzle games. There are lots of them, and tons of them don't really look that fun. Especially in a world where a masterpiece like Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords exists. When I watch video reviews of most puzzle games, I usually think, “Wow, that looks like Puzzle Quest but missing dozens of features.” But a few of them look interesting enough to give a shot. Zuma is one of them. It's much simpler than Puzzle Quest by far. It's much more straightforward. But it's also different enough and clever enough to warrant quite a lot of play time.

In Zuma, you play as a frog statue posted in a stationary position somewhere near the middle of the screen. You can rotate in place with either analog stick. A twisting path circles around you leading from a point off-screen to a skull somewhere near you. Colored balls flow in line from off-screen and fill the the path up, always pushing forward toward the skull. If the front of the line reaches the skull, you loose. The frog has a colored ball in its mouth and one in reserve on its back. You aim where you want to shoot the ball in its mouth and press X to fire. Alternately, you can press circle to switch the reserve ball into the frog's mouth so you can fire that one. Each time you shoot, the reserve ball moves to the mouth and you get a new reserve ball. The ball you fire pushes its way into the chain and becomes part of it. Matching three or more balls of the same color makes them disappear. Score enough points by making matches and the balls will stop flowing. Once they stop coming, getting rid of the balls left onscreen completes the level, allowing you to move up to the next challenge in the lengthy campaign.

These are all the rules you need to know in the beginning, but once you get through a few levels, things start to become more difficult. The balls move in faster and start further through the path, and more colors start to appear. Level design becomes more devious as paths snake around blocking your firing lanes at certain spots of the chain and going through tunnels that you can't fire into. When the challenge ramps up, you really need to start paying attention to the more advanced rules and concepts in Zuma. The main thing you'll start to notice is that every ball you fire into the chain pushes the balls ahead of it forward, even if you make a match. This becomes really noticeable when the chain of balls gets near the skull. This means that once you get near the skull, you will lose even if you are making matches. Your only hope is to set up combos and to activate naturally occurring combos in the chain. You see, if you make a match, and then the remaining balls on either side are of the same color, the front of the chain will be magnetically sucked backward to get those two balls together. The momentum from this pushes the whole line back a bit. Doing this as often as possible is the only way to survive when you get into harder levels.

Sometimes you will spot combos like this in the line and all you have to do is remember where they are and make sure to shoot them when you get the right colored ball. Other times you will need to set them up yourself, dividing up some adjacent like-colored balls with a few balls of another color so that the next time you run into the middle color you can cause a combo. Or you might want to lace the line with two colors in an every-other pattern so that later when you make matches in that section you will get some combo action. And sometimes it might be as simple as connecting big gaps in the line together by adding a ball to one side of the line that matches the ball on the other end, causing it to be sucked back. And lastly, pure dumb luck will get you quite a few combos, but as time goes on, this won't be nearly enough to get you through.

Setting up these combos is quite a difficult thing to learn, but Zuma does a very good job of ramping you up to the point where you need to concentrate on combo play. Its many levels very slowly show you that just making matches won't be good enough.

The other strategy that pays off in conjunction with making combos is to get your score very high very quickly so that the balls stop flowing. You can get score bonuses by making many matches in a row, by shooting coins that randomly appear (although they are almost always strategically placed so that you have to make a breach in the line in order to shoot them), or by making matches by firing through a gap in the line.

Zuma basically has one song, a tribal theme that matches the game's Mayan feel. I thought it was going to get old, but it works pretty well, especially since it dynamically adapts to what happens in the game, building in intensity as things go wrong, then suddenly becoming more calm when you combo your way into a less precarious situation. The real standout in the sound is the billiard ball “clunk” sound of the balls knocking together, which is spot on and actually adds a lot to the game. That sound is so satisfying and pleasant that it really adds to the game's appeal and fun.

Zuma's campaign is lengthy, but once I beat it, I didn't find any of its post-game features very exciting. There is a survival mode where you play until you die, and a bunch of ridiculously hard trophies, but I really felt that I was done with the game after the story mode.

I was done, but I had had a great time. Zuma is an evil, evil game that teleports you several hours through through your evening straight to bed-time when you swore to yourself you would just try a few rounds. Several of its harder levels had me losing and restarting close to 20 times in a row, thinking if I did just a little better, I would get through that level. Finally beating these challenges by playing in a near zen-like state of flow, constantly shooting gems just where they need to be at breakneck speeds, is a rush, and for me would often lead to me destroying the next few levels like they were child's play. Zuma's addicting nature and interesting play make it a very solid, straightforward puzzle game. The way the shape of the levels dictate how you play and the way you develop more and more strategies to cope with what it throws at you ensure that it won't wear out its welcome. It's equal parts cerebral strategy and twitchy, tricky shooting. It's a 4 out of 5.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (May 16, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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