At first glance, Zuma’s Revenge feels a bit more insubstantial than PopCap’s other offerings. After all, gone are the multiple characters, special powers, and complicated maps of Peggle. Gone are the complicated Tower Defense tactics of Plants vs. Zombies. Zuma’s Revenge feels much more like a web game (and you can play it for free on several sites) than any of PopCap’s previous retail and downloadable games. It feels like something you might not want to pay for.
It is certainly not lacking in PopCap’s trademark quality and carefully orchestrated charm. The game revolves around the ludicrous adventures of your character, a giant frog that spits colored balls out of his mouth. Your goal is to shoot the little balls as accurately as possible, out of your mouth and into a long line of advancing balls (all, coincidentally enough, sporting the same colors as the balls that you are constantly regurgitating).
The game is all about timing and racing against time. While various levels throw kinks and oddments into the starting formula, the general idea is this: shoot out balls to destroy incoming balls (as always, connect at least three to make them disappear). The balls all snake along together like a bead necklace, following a track that you can see. If you let them get to the end of the track, you lose. It’s simple, but bit by bit, PopCap adds new wrinkles to the game, and you begin to learn that it all isn’t quite as simple as it might seem.
You don’t just have red, blue, green, and yellow balls to contend with. Every sixth ball or so will be some brand of special ball. Maybe it will blow up all of the balls near it, give you super-accurate laser aiming, or temporarily set the whole bead necklace line moving backwards. None of these ball-centric effects and power ups ever really shakes things up too much, however. They just make you think differently about the game — for about a second.
Likewise, as the game, progresses you will be confronted with a few different takes on the regular playing scheme. Normally, your frog sits still, spewing balls out of his mouth. Sometimes the line of balls she must hold back snakes around her. Sometimes it coils back upon it itself, necessitating fast and extremely careful aiming. From time to time, the game presents you with a row of balls and, on the other side, a moving enemy. You have to carefully remove the balls and shoot between the gaps at the enemy. Sometimes your frog will actually be attached to a moving slide, a horizontal line that lets you move back and forth (to avoid projectiles from bosses, say) and lets you hit different ball sets.
That really is about it, however. The game, much like many smaller, more casual titles, is not eager to throw tons of options and mechanics at you all at once. It’s not nearly as complicated as Plants vs. Zombies. But it also feels like it has less going on than a simple game like Peggle. Simplicity isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as the previously mentioned games, among many others, ably prove), but Zuma’s Revenge makes the wrong things simple.
For instance, it would be really great if I could get different frogs that would do different things. Maybe I’d have to use different frogs for different maps (which would of course offer up different kinds of challenges), or maybe, I could play with any frog on any map. When you play Zuma’s Revenge, you will spend much of each play session thinking about things like this. The game isn’t bad because it is terribly simple: it just doesn’t handle its simplicity well.
Once you master the tactics mentioned above, there is absolutely nothing left to learn or experience. Sure, you can always get a better (or possibly perfect) score on a level but doing so isn’t exciting in every way. One of the great things about games like Zuma’s Revenge is that they have an eye for addictive simplicity and a carefully calibrated sense of randomness that can be both a blessing and a curse.
Zuma’s Revenge possesses none of this randomness. Sure, the balls that trundle along the track toward you are not always the same color or pattern and you get to fiddle around with different bosses and locations, but that’s it. It might seem a like a fun game (and it is), but the fun lasts for all of a few hours. After that, you really have to love the formula; otherwise, you’ll be looking for something fresh and interesting quickly. Zuma’s Revenge is fun and entertaining enough, but it doesn’t have the legs that more addictive and inventive games have.