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SummaryAddictive even though it does get pretty difficult
The GoodThe gameplay. Zuma Deluxe is a clever take on good old Bust-A-Move. You still try to clear large numbers of colored balls by shooting other balls at them and making groups of three or more balls of the same color. However this time the balls don't come down from the ceiling but they roll along a winding track towards a skull-shaped exit and it's your job to prevent them from reaching that exit. Just like Bust-A-Move, Zuma is really easy to get into (but eventually becomes pretty difficult). The controls are simple: use your mouse to spin the frog around to aim, the left mouse-button to shoot and the right mouse-button to switch between the frog's current ball and the next one. I always used to think that the concept of Zuma was original, until reading Scierce's trivia (see trivia section) made me realize it is somewhat of a clone itself. Anyway, for me it was the first time I played such a game and Zuma was the game that made the whole Puzzle Loop idea popular.
Usually I'm not a huge fan of these "match 3" type of games (in which you need to match 3 or more objects of a similar color or shape to make them disappear) but somehow I found Zuma Deluxe incredibly addictive. It's really fast-paced and you're constantly making combo's and scoring bonuses. Games such as this one are often labeled puzzle games but in Zuma you're often shooting multiple balls per second, so it's got plenty of action. Regularly you're forced to act so quickly that you don't really have the time to think about the best slot to place a ball. I frequently wished I was able to ponder about my next move a little bit longer.
It's good that Zuma rewards taking risks. Shooting through gaps, shooting for coins and setting up multiple combo's all give you extra points which let you finish a level faster. The different power-ups (rewind: forces back the stream of balls, explosion: takes out a large group of balls of all colors, slow: decreases the speed with which the balls move towards the exit and accuracy: a laser pointer that helps you aim) are useful and can help you quickly change the odds in your favor (for a couple of seconds that is, cause the balls will be back in no time :P).
Zuma has 21 different boards and some of them have really interesting layouts with tunnels, overpasses or two separate streams of balls that run alongside each other. However, these complex layouts do make the game challenging (see the bad section). You can play each board in multiple modes and on four difficulty levels, so Zuma can keep you occupied for while. But only if you're a completist and want to complete the adventure mode and get a high score & a sun god rating for every board in both the gauntlet's survival and practice modes. After playing the game for quite a while it got a bit too repetitive for me (the gameplay unfortunately doesn't differ much between the various boards & modes) so I didn't do the latter.
The graphics are not spectacular, but for a 6 MB shareware game they're definitely OK. The graphics are colorful and the Aztec-themed artwork is nice too. The sound-effects and music are not bad either. The music fits the jungle theme of the game and gets more intense when the balls close in on the skull. Unfortunately there's only one short piece of music so it does become annoying when you play the game a lot. Fortunately you can turn the music off.
The BadFor a casual game aimed at a broad audience Zuma does get challenging. It starts off easy but once you reach the Sun God difficulty level (which you need to master to beat the adventure mode) the balls move towards the exit at a very high pace and they're already a long way down the track before you can launch your first ball. Sometimes there are multiple streams of balls that overlap (so part of the stream blocks your access to the rest of the stream) or the balls disappear in a tunnel which makes it hard to shoot a ball to a strategic spot in the stream. Consequently, Zuma is not a relaxing game since you're nearly always under pressure and struggling to fight off your almost inevitable demise. Sometimes you just need luck to survive; getting a ball of the right color or a power-up can make the difference between death and reaching the next level. You don't have any influence on which balls appear in the stream or in the mouth of the frog. Considering the difficulty it is a bummer that, in the adventure mode, your game is only saved after you've completed an entire temple stage. A stage consists of 6 or 7 levels and takes somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes to beat. As a result I got stuck at stage 12, which I've read, is the penultimate one.
The adventure mode felt a bit obligatory. It has become somewhat of a trend for (casual) puzzle games to have a story mode so apparently Zuma needed one to. With only 4 screens of text, Zuma's story mode is really simple and implemented even less convincingly than in some other titles in the genre. You get the impression this mode was added mainly as an excuse for not having to give the player access to all the boards at once. As you might have guessed you'll have to unlock them in the adventure mode (which fortunately doesn't take very much time). Of course it adds some extra content and keeps you busy for a while, but personally I enjoyed the survival mode the most since you can just keep on playing till the balls eventually reach the exit and don't have to clear all the remaining balls after you've scored enough points to fill up the Zuma-bar.