Zuma
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-03-02 PS3 Puzzle E (Everyone) PopCap Games / SOE

A list of the best casual games would be entirely incomplete without mentioning Zuma. Available on most every platform including cell phones, Zuma is, without question, one of the best casual gaming templates ever created, and is now available to download from the Playstation Network store for play on both the PS3 and PSP.

Zuma for the PS3 is as much of a copy and paste job of its previous versions as possible, but with such an established, addictive game, saying that nothing has changed is actually a compliment. For those unfamiliar with the title (or with its largest competitor Luxor), Zuma's setup is fairly straightforward: a string of multi-colored marbles (made of red, green, yellow, and blue marbles) winds its way around a set path (spirals, triangles, ovals, etc.), while you fire marbles into the string from a rotating platform in the center of the level with the goal being to create a link of three or more like colored orbs, thereby destroying them and reducing the size of the string.

In order to complete each level, you must first accumulate enough points to fill the Zuma meter located in the top right corner of the screen, which stops the addition of new marbles to the strand. Afterwards, you continue to create groups of three of more matching marbles, removing them from the string until you have removed them all.

Aiding in your progress is a chaining / combo ability, which causes subsequent explosions if the marbles left behind in the strand (once they move to fill in the gap you created) create another link of three or more marbles of the same color. In addition, marbles often contain temporary power-ups, which, once activated, will increase your rate of fire, reduce the speed of the string's movement or cause it to move in the opposite direction.

Power-ups aside, the main ingredient helping in your success will ultimately be your own hand-eye coordination. Fire too slowly, and the string moves into the center of the board and into a black hole never to be seen again. You are given three lives at the beginning of the game, with new lives being awarded each time you earn 50,000 points, but even three lives won't be enough to save you in most later levels, where skill only goes so far, and the rest depends on the "luck of the draw" of receiving the right colored marble at the right time.

With more than a few dozen levels in Zuma's main adventure mode, the game's difficulty increases slowly. Much like the speed of falling tiles in Tetris, in Zuma, the string will not only begin to move faster in later levels, but will also contain new colors of marbles, that greatly increase the challenge when waiting for a specific color, and all the game "wants" to give you is red or green.

Luckily, if you are fortunate enough to remove a color entirely from the screen, it will remain absent for the rest of the level, thereby easing the tension a bit, since there are less colors to worry about at once.

With this gradual increase in difficulty comes an accessibility to players who are both seasoned pros at the system, and those who have never even held a controller before. The controls themselves are also quite intuitive, and contain three options for every action possible in the game.

All of that being said, if you eventually find yourself stuck in Adventure mode, you can play through the game's Gauntlet mode, which plays as an endurance test, challenging you to last as long as you can on one particular level layout. Filling the Zuma meter in this mode raises your rank, along with increasing the speed of marble movement and the quantity of colors.

As an added incentive to make your way through both modes, doing so will reward you with the majority of the game's ten trophies, while the others (shoot a certain number of chains / combos in a row, for instance) are bound to come to you with repeat playthroughs.

No matter which mode you choose, Zuma?s graphics have received a big boost from the PC version of the game. Each marble is highly detailed and adorned with various tribal patterns, while the level backgrounds are more toned down and designed with a muted color pallet, in order to give a sense of depth to the levels without causing a distraction.

Likewise, the sound department is much more realistic in this downloadable version of the game than in any other I've played. As marbles slam into one another, they sound as though they are made of stone and contain a real weight, rather than looking and sounding like plastic baubles rolling around a screen. The soundtrack itself is also more epic this time around, with its ethnic and tropical sound nicely completing the overall package.

For all the praise I could give Zuma on the PS3 for its simplistic yet dangerously addictive gameplay, the price here ($9.99) may become an issue for some, since there are so many other versions of the game available, even online versions that can be played for free. However, for those who love the system as much as I do, the price is definitely worth it, as it provides yet another way to experience such a great game, this time available from the comfort of your own couch.


Special thanks to Ryan Peters and SOE for providing a copy of this title.