Review: PopCap Games Zuma
It's known by many names - Atari calls it Ballistic, Mitchell calls it Puzzloop, and Nintendo calls it Magnetica - but PopCap Games and developer Astraware call it Zuma ($5), a game that reiterates the same color-matching theme we saw in the iPod game Cubis 2, only this time in 2-D, and with bubbles and spirals rather than a grid full of cubes. If you like to point at things and match colors, Zuma might interest you - it's a good if simple game - but if you're like us, you'll quickly tire of the repetitive matching action after only a short period of time.
A decade ago, Taito released a post-Tetris puzzle game variously called Puzzle Bobble or Bust-a-Move, flipping the “well full of blocks” upside down and letting you shoot things up into it. Baby dinosaurs at the bottom of the screen fired colored bubbles at the well’s existing collection of bubbles, trying to match three or more of the same bubble color and eliminate everything already inside the well. The idea proved popular, spawning numerous sequels and a few knock-offs.
Like Ballistic, Puzzloop, and Magnetica, Zuma is a slightly remixed knock-off of Bust-a-Move, minus the cutesy dinosaur and bubble art. PopCap’s selected audiovisual theme is “ancient Indian,” with a stone frog face firing colored stone balls against less colorful stony backdrops. This time you fire from the center of the well rather than its bottom, rotating by sweeping your finger around the Click Wheel, and firing with a single button press. Just like Cubis 2, a beam of light points in your chosen direction, and a match of three or more pieces removes items from the screen.
The only literal twist here is that the colored balls are lined up in a single continuous line, which wraps around itself in a spiral shape, inching closer and closer to your cannon as the number of balls increases. If the closest ball in the line touches a golden skull next to your cannon, the game ends, so you need to constantly match colors to keep yourself alive - any match of three or more balls will shorten the line. Several icons are mixed in with the regular balls, letting you slow down or back up the line, aim more precisely, or blow up a bunch of balls near the bomb ball you hit.
Like several of the other recent iPod games, Zuma is a “pretty good” title, just engaging enough to occupy you briefly inbetween other activities. It has previously passed unremarkably from console to console under different names without earning any great respect or attention; though the iPod version benefits from a slightly nicer set of ball and background graphics than the odder-looking Nintendo DS title Magnetica, and its controls are naturally suited to the iPod’s rotary-style Click Wheel, it’s still not a standout visually, and doesn’t do much with the iPod’s 3-D hardware. Like Bejeweled, Zuma is a game that’s best-suited to super-casual gamers with low expectations - not a bad title, but not one we’d go out of our way to recommend.