Saturday, August 19, 2006

Zuma Deluxe review

Here's my penultimate review for Xbox 360 week. I was originally going to review Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting but I feel I haven't spent enough time playing it to do it justice. Instead I will review Zuma Deluxe, which has been eating up a lot of my time recently.

Format: Xbox 360 (Live Arcade)
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: PopCap
Genre: Puzzle
Region: All
Price: 800 MS points
Where to buy: Xbox Live Marketplace

Many years ago a company by the name of Mitchell release an arcade puzzle called entitle Puzzloop. In this game you controlled a central "cannon" which fired out various coloured balls. Around you cannon was a spiral shaped track, along which similar coloured balls rolled along, towards a hole near the centre. If any of the balls should reach the centre, you lose a life. To stop the onslaught of balls, you have to fire orbs out of your cannon and match up three or more of the same colour. The aiming system is rather reminiscent of Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move, except you can fire in 360 degrees.

Later on, Popcap took the basic concept of the game, added a Mayan theme, and released it on the PC as a shareware title. It was a roaring success, and as a result Microsoft saw the potential of the game on their Xbox Live Arcade service and signed up PopCap to make a deluxe version. A very similar game entitled Magnetica has also been released on the DS recently - the main differences being a more futuristic look and the use of the stylus as the primary control method. This is really the true sequel to Puzzloop however, as it is made by the original creators Mitchell. That doesn't stoop Zuma Deluxe from being a bloody good game, however.
As well as simple colour matching, there are a variety of power ups that randomly appear and can really save your life in times of stress. There's one that makes all the balls go backwards for a while, one that explodes and wipes out the area around it, another that pauses the movement of the balls for a few seconds, and one that makes your aiming more accurate.

The aim of the game in the main Adventure mode is to earn enough points to activate Zuma mode. You do this by scoring points, from clearing balls, setting of chain reactions, firing through gaps and collecting random coins that appear in hard to reach places. Once Zuma mode is achieved, no more new balls will appear and you can clear up any that remain. Then everything starts over on a different shaped track. Occasionally, there will be two tracks at once and you will really have to concentrate and aim well in order to survive. There's also a Gauntlet mode included in the game, which is endless. This time when Zuma is activated you go up a level and things get harder. Every so often another coloured ball is added to complicate matters even further.

The first time you encounter one of these double track levels, you will probably panic!

Graphics: 7 out of 10
The graphics in Zuma Deluxe are most definitely bright and colourful as you can see from the screenshot above, but there isn't an awful lot to them. Nevertheless the design is quite pleasing to the eye and there are many differently shaped tracks for the balls to travel along. There's not really a whole lot to say here - they're functional, not amazing, but quite stylish at the same time.

Sound and Music: 8 out 10
I really love the sound effects in Zuma Deluxe. There's a very satisfying popping sound every time you fire a ball out of your frog-cannon, and a clack as the balls hit each other. There's only two different pieces of music that play in the game - a normal theme and a panic theme when you're about to lose. They capture the Mayan style of the game quite well with the instruments and chanting, but can get a bit repetitive after extended play. The panic music can be quite useful if you didn't realise you were in danger, but it can also just make you more stressed sometimes too.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
Only a few puzzle games have really captured my attention and kept me playing for hours on end. These include Tetris of course, and Bust-A-Move 2 for the PlayStation. I can now add Zuma Deluxe to the list. It's just incredibly good fun to pop the coloured balls and try and clear as many stages as you can. The sound effects play a part in this, but it's also down to the fact that the basic game design (as detailed in the introduction) works really well. To be fair though this is more down to the designers of the originally Puzzloop, as PopCap essentially copied the game and reskinned it.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Zuma Deluxe gets 1 out of 5 for Innovation, and 5 out of 5 for cleverness. There's just to escaping that fact that this is essentially a remake of someone else's game, but also that it really works. PopCap did bring a few new ideas to the table such as the Mayan theme, but for the most part it is somebody else's work. The fact that the game has managed to hook me after one look at the trial version is testament to the good groundwork that Mitchell made though, and a good game is still a good game no matter how it is reskinned.

The first stage of the game is a basic spiral but things get much more convoluted later on.

Value and Replayability: 9 out of 10
Once Zuma gets its claws into you there's no escaping the addictivness of the game. There are many different temples to conquer in Adventure mode, and once you've done that you can attempt to earn the highest rank on each of the individual stages in Gauntlet mode which will take both considerable time and skill. There's the usual smattering of achievements that help add depth and challenge to the game, and these include earning 100 gap bonuses, and playing the game for a total of 24 hours. 24 hours might seem like quite a long time to be playing a simple puzzle game, but once you start playing that time will go by fairly quickly as you'll be playing at every opportunity.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Personally, Zuma Deluxe is my favourite game on Xbox Live Arcade at the moment. It beats Geometry Wars because there's a more gentle learning curve, and I'm actually quite good at it (which counts for a lot). Even today at work I can't get the music and the popping sound out of my head and I can't wait to get home and have another go. Zuma is definitely worth the 800 points - it's just a shame they didn't include any multiplayer mode. Magnetica on the DS does have a single card multiplayer mode however, and come pay day I shall pick it up and find out how it compares to Zuma as an overall package.

Join me tomorrow as my Xbox 360 week concludes with Moto GP 06.

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