Zuma is a match three or more puzzle game with a bit of a twist. The action takes place on a board viewed from the top-down. A series of spheres moves around a track on the screen, at a fair pace towards a pit. The player must stop the front of the queue from reaching the pit and ending the game, and this is done by firing a ball at the right place, at the right time. All done with a very satisfying clunk as the balls hit home.
Action is controlled via a little frog like avatar that’s able to rotate around 360 degrees, something which works really nicely with the PS3 thumb stick. Froggie can spit out one of the two balls that he holds at any time, giving the player the option to swap between the current colour to vomit onto the board.
The main chunk of the game is the adventure mode. This journey takes the player through many different style boards, introducing shorter trails, and multiple ball sources. The difficulty ramps up pretty quickly, forcing very quick thinking for each move. Zuma can definitely be classified as a twitch as well as a puzzle game.
Just when the player thinks he’s got the game sussed, Zuma throws a curve ball at the proceedings. Maps appear with part of the track obscured by underground passages, making the target area for hitting the unending procession even tougher, and these things move at such a pace that often it can be overwhelming. Hit a great combo, smashing down the line however, and there is a definite feeling of smugness. Reaching the massive high-scores of the Zuma masters is a humbling experience though, the number of trailing zeros of the top-ten makes lottery winners look poor.
Through the spherical undulations, there are special balls that slow down the speed of the trail, reverse the balls or explode them removing a good chunk of the field, thus changing the pace of the game; it’s important to burst these at the right time – poor tactics are a sure fire way of reaching the ‘Game Over’ screen fast. What is striking about Zuma is the lack of frustration when things aren’t going well, and this is down to the game rewarding skill and punishing ineptitude. It can never be said that the game cheats, so a bad performance is purely down to the player making mistakes, and not hitting the right part of the queue with the right globe.
Bonuses are awarded for hitting particularly cunning shots, such as shooting a gap in the line, and the smaller the gap, the higher the points. Combo busts are also well rewarded (where a bust causes another bust), as are destroying big chains (getting a number of three or higher moves in a row). Manage to get a double-gap shot and there’s mega kudos to be earned, and much satisfaction to be garnered.
At the end of each round the statistics for the player performance are shown. There is an “Ace Time” for completion of each of the levels, but achieving this is extremely difficult. There’s little margin for error to hit such minimal times, but it’s definitely something else to aim for, if only to prove mastery of the game.
At £6.99 it’s not the cheapest of titles available on the PlayStation Network, and double the cost on Xbox360. It does however have an addictive quality that all the greatest puzzle games posses and certainly has plenty of replay potential. If you find high-score chasing an enjoyable pastime, then Zuma may be just the ticket.