The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
PopCap’s projectile-vomiting frog kicked off his bid for revenge three years ago on PC, and is just now bringing his ball-busting fury to Xbox Live. Zuma’s Revenge is a port of the 2009 PC game made slightly different by the additions of weekly challenges, a boss rush mode, and the revelation that gaming’s second favorite frog has a spiritual side (more on that later). No matter what your platform preference is, Zuma’s Revenge is an enjoyable sequel that weds the simple concept of match-three with an intense shooting experience.
A long chain of marbles slowly rolls along a serpentine path toward a hole in the earth. All that stands between them and their destination is a frog on a swivel. The frog’s goal is to eliminate all of the marbles (hundreds of them sometimes) before a single one reaches the hole. The only way he can achieve victory is to fire additional marbles toward the chain. If three of the same colored marble are matched, they’ll explode, thus shortening the chain. Errant shots only make the chain longer. Forward thinking and strategic shooting, however, create combo opportunities.
Zuma’s Revenge holds true to this gameplay design for 90 percent of the stages, and dabbles in new concepts for the remainder. In a few stages, the frog can hop between two lily pads. This ability allows PopCap to be more devious in its level design, often meaning an impenetrable rock wall or tunnel blankets the marbles’ path.
Another level variant can best be summarized as Zuma meets Space Invaders. The frog is locked into an upward facing position at the bottom of the screen, and the goal is to fire marbles up at a chain descending, row-by-row, toward a hole near the frog. Since these stages limit the number of marbles that can be fired upon, I found them a little too easy. My eyes didn’t have to dart as frantically, and the color groupings are more forgiving.
This mode only presents any challenge when a boss is a part of the equation. Bosses rain down ailments that can affect the frog’s abilities, such as slowed firing. While the player must still keep an eye on the marble chain, victory on these stages is achieved by pelting the boss with marbles. Creating a hole in the chain is the only way to fire a shot up at the boss. These stages force the player to take more risks, and also add skill-based movement to the mix.
If you played through the first Zuma, one small misstep could lead to a life lost, and “Game Over!” flashing on the screen. PopCap has taken pity on players, and Zuma’s Revenge does away with lives altogether. You also don't have to start at the beginning of each world. Any stage can be selected from a Quick Play menu. Should you fail, the level resets and you can try your luck again.
I flew through all six worlds, failing once or twice on only four or five stages. I enjoyed most of it, but never once had that “I have to be perfect from here on out” feeling rise up from my gut like I did through a large portion of the first game. Later stages no longer fill the player with anxiety, which lessens the thrill of passing a world.
On top of the new progression format, a reduction in difficulty is tied to power-ups. Bombs no longer detonate in the chain. Your frog now earns a bomb shot that can be fired anywhere. If you target power-ups, you’ll end up wielding just as many lethal shot types in a level as an FPS protagonist does weapon types. Way too many marbles are removed by shot augmentations.
The frog’s belief in spirit animals also raises the odds of success. The Spirit Rabbit increases the number of power-up balls that appear. If you want to spit out balls faster, Spirit Cheetah ups shot speed. Spirit Hawk nets you more points, and the Spirit Monkey hands out more points for fruit. Players can level up the effectiveness of the animals’ bonuses by cashing in Spirit Badges that are earned in each stage. The spirit animals, as you may have guessed, also make the game easier.
The only strenuous exercise is Iron Frog mode, a 10-stage gauntlet with no second chances. Iron Frog is brutal from the outset and only gets more challenging as it goes. It’s a nice nod to players that want a challenge, but is a small, standalone experience.
I’m glad Zuma’s Revenge made its way to Xbox Live three years after its original launch date. I had a great time blowing up marbles for a second time, but can’t help but feel a little disappointed that I completed it in one sitting without cursing once. The new formula delivers a more relaxing thrill – which isn’t a bad thing – as opposed to pushing players to hone their skills.
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